Vote Smart to leave Montana roots behind

By JORDAN SPARR/Montana State News

Nonprofit activism organization Vote Smart will leave its Philipsburg ranch in favor of Drake University’s campus in Des Moines, Iowa. After troubles arose from the remote location on Vote Smart’s Great Divide Ranch, President Richard Kimball has decided that a university-owned building in Iowa would be a beneficial change.

With a mission that reads, “Provide free, factual, unbiased information on candidates and elected officials to all Americans” and a history dating back to its inception in 1992, Vote Smart has become an important voice within the American political activism circuit.

According to its official website, Vote Smart is dedicated to helping American citizens take an unbiased look at political candidates in an election environment that is increasingly more dependent on how much those running for office spend on their campaign.

Vote Smart founders, such as American Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, wanted to make sure the organization was dedicated to defending democracy and fighting back against threats to the democratic election process.

According to the official Vote Smart newsletter, the organization’s departure from the 150-acre Great Divide Ranch came from necessity and safety. Kimball addressed these issues as the normal problems which arise when many college-age people work and live in isolated quarters on the Montana countryside. Missoula holds the nearest airport to the ranch at a 100-mile distance, and hospitals were a fair distance away as well.

Addressing the issue of staff safety, Kimball wrote in the official newsletter that, “We have all the problems a university does with the experimental, adventurous, hormonal torrent that is the young. Only in the wilderness such things can become dangerous. Love was requited and denied, marriages were created, fights ensued, drinkers crashed, injuries of every sort, hospital trips too numerous to recall, some to sustain life, and distressingly, three deaths.”

By moving headquarters to Drake University in Iowa, the Vote Smart board hopes to provide a better opportunity for interns and volunteers to get involved with the organization. Getting personnel in and out of the Montana location, especially during the winter, proved to be difficult. Leaving the isolation of the remote Montana ranch will also give employees and interns an environment outside of isolation, bringing with it less interpersonal conflict and tension.

Getting all of its funding through grants and donations and activism-minded citizens, the organization’s tax returns, which are available publicly on the Vote Smart website, show that revenue for the organization’s budget fluctuate between $1 million and $2 million annually. With the opportunity to relocate to Drake University, Kimball hopes that Vote Smart can be even more attentive and active in current political goings on.

According to Drake University’s website, it has become a hub for the Iowa caucuses through hosting presidential debates, candidate appearances, and various internship opportunities for students in the school’s political science program.

Vote Smart’s website details some of the ways in which it upholds its most vital tenets and moral attributes in maintaining a non-partisan source of fact and political information. These methods include a process by which no board member can join without having a politically opposite minded member to keep biases in check.

Refusal of financial help from organizations and groups with explicit interest and activity for specific political candidates or known ties to specific political ideologies is rigidly enforced. Supporters and members of the organization are also strictly protected. Selling/giving names and personal information of any member, volunteer, intern, or employee is prohibited for any reason at any time.

In an increasingly turbulent democratic process within American politics, Vote Smart hopes to use its rigid rules for supporting true American democracy to inform voters and provide accurate, unbiased facts about candidates and campaigning processes.

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