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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Project Vote Smart

Spring 2013 Site Review

Position: Legislative Research Intern
Student: Linguistics Senior

Project Vote Smart is a non-partisan, non-profit, political and legislative research organization. Project Vote Smart (PVS) was formally founded in 1992 by a bipartisan committee of politicians and statesmen, including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. PVS’s driving motivation is to create a better, more informed voter, and therefore promote a healthy and secure democracy. The organization achieves this goal of civic engagement by providing accurate, non-partisan, free research on its website, accessible 24/7. A major component of PVS’s mission is accomplished by shedding light on candidates’ and politicians’ positions specifically, thereby giving voters and constituents a solid understanding of where their representatives stand on the issues that matter to them.

While PVS’s main office operates out of Montana, a satellite office and major department are hosted by the College of Communications and the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life here at the University of Texas. The internship I participated in was with this office, in the Key Votes Research Department. The job of Key Votes is to track, select, and summarize state and national legislative votes that illustrate a major controversy or issue position.

As a legislative Research intern, my job consisted of providing all of these elements. In time, I was tracking a specific assigned state for issue position votes, entering raw vote data, writing summaries of legislation, participating in key vote selection meetings, and checking the work of fellow interns.

The internship can be roughly divided into three parts over the semester. The first two to three weeks are training. PVS is largely run by the work of volunteers and interns, so there is a very developed system of training. We constantly refer to the PVS Wiki site, and this training period is spent reading through how-to sections, writing and reviewing practice vote entries and vote summaries, and slowly starting to work independently on these, while getting tons of supervisor editing and feedback. The next bulk of the semester, till around the half-way mark, is spent writing summaries, entering vote data, and checking both. During this time, I still heavily referred to the PVS Wiki and had supervisors review my work at certain stages, but mostly you are working independently. You also attend Key Vote selection meetings to help decide which votes to select and to better understand what makes a Key Vote and how to distinguish one. The final half of the semester continues this work, but interns are also assigned a state to track the press for possible Key Votes. This becomes the first part of every work day, when you review the various press, select any vote that you feel is important, and then prepare to present it in a selection meeting. Other than that, you continue to do the regular work of vote entry and summary writing.

The internship required me to work about 140 hours over the semester, roughly 10 hours per week, and I was able to set up a weekly schedule that worked for me. Anytime between 8am and 5pm was fine, and simply needed approval. The current workspace consists of a computer lab with small desk stations, where interns do their work.

Do keep in mind the qualitative nature of this internship. It is mostly reading and writing at a computer. You follow some standardized rules, and then apply your best judgment. The PVS supervisors are friendly, intelligent, and always around, and they encourage you to ask them questions and give them feedback. It is a fairly independent job. The atmosphere is not especially social, but that can change depending on you and the interns working at any given time. If this doesn’t sound like a good work environment for you, than this probably isn’t the internship for you.

However, if this does sound good to you, then I strongly encourage applying to PVS. I have had an excellent experience there that has met all of my goals, including improving my writing, critical thinking, communication skills, and knowledge of current events and legislative processes. I have been so impressed by the organization that I intend to volunteer there until I graduate. Consider the implications, and happy internship hunting!

Fall 2012 Site Review

Position: Legislative Research Intern
Student: Government Senior

Project Vote Smart is an educational non-profit whose Austin office is run by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Engagement. The goal of the non-profit is to make the obscure parts of the American political government more accessible to ordinary citizens. Project Vote Smart relays their information and research primarily through their website. The organization collects and analyzes a variety of information, but the Austin office is responsible for researching “key votes” occurring on the state and federal levels. The organization researches current press and news articles about the legislation, researches the voting record for the legislation, and then enters this information into the company’s data base so that it is available on the company website. Then interns read the piece of legislation and create a summary of the legislation that is comprehensible and easy to understand. This summary is posted to the website along with the key votes so that voters can understand the political, social, and economic implications of legislation that is being passed.

The organization usually has 20-25 interns a semester, and interns are required to work an average of 10 hours a week. The internship is unpaid, but rather than feeling like you are not compensated for your efforts, you instead learn that this non-profit does a very important service with very limited donations. They refuse to accept donations from any companies or people that have political ties. So your work actually feels like part of a collaborative effort for making government more accessible rather than unpaid work.

Fall 2012 Site Review

Position: Legislative Research Intern
Student: International Relations & Global Studies Junior

Project Vote Smart (PVS) is a strictly non-partisan, non-profit organization. It gathers information in order to educate voters about their candidates as well as key pieces of legislation. It provides facts without the biases that are present in today’s society.

A day at PVS consists of a variety of things based on your interests. If we had recently selected votes, an intern would be in charge of entering the votes. This would consist of entering different stages of the bill into the PVS database. The intern would be responsible for entering the sponsors, co-sponsors, and the votes. The vote would then go through two more vote checks to make sure that no mistakes were made. Once this is done an intern would also have the option to write a bill summary. A bill summary is when we take all the media attention it has garnered as well as the actual bill text and highlight the main points. When the bill summary is completed, it then goes through 2 more summary checks as well as a staff check to make sure that there is no partisan language and that all the main points were talked about. After that there is a web check just to make sure that the information on the PVS website is correct. Besides handling summary, web, and vote checks, PVS has an active blog that summarizes the legislative session for each state. Interns are encouraged to write a blog based on what state they would prefer. PVS interns are also encouraged to create their own projects and initiatives. If there is something that an intern would like to do and Project Vote Smart can help new initiatives are encouraged.

Project Vote Smart teaches interns how to think critically. It teaches interns how to look past biases in legislature and see the facts. PVS also teaches interns about our legislative system. Through reading bill summaries you learn about national trends, you learn how legislative jargon is utilized, and you see become more in tune with public policy. Being an intern at Project Vote Smart is an amazing experience, the skills you gather are invaluable.

Spring 2012 Site Review

Position: Legislative Research Intern
Student: Government Junior

Project Vote Smart is intended to serve as a defense for voters. It protects them from the misrepresentation of political views held by candidates, and accomplishes this by providing a collection of unbiased data. The Legislative Research Department of Project Vote Smart works through the University of Texas, and provides an internship program, known as the Key Votes Internship Program, in order for students to assist in the analysis of legislative data.

Key Vote interns are charged with the tracking of votes and the summarization of legislation at both the state and Congressional levels. The process of tracking legislation and inputting votes into the system is not difficult, but it can be tedious. It involves keeping abreast of pertinent legislative issues in the press, noting what legislation is attracting the most attention, and then proposing such legislation to be included to the Project Vote Smart system. Once approved, votes of each political representative who voted on that legislation are recorded. After this is completed, a summary needs to be written of the legislation. This is the most important responsibility of the intern, as it is crucial that their interpretation be unbiased, clear, and concise. This requires above average analysis ability and a firm command of the English language. It also demands discipline, as this process is usually very tedious. This is usually what an intern encounters on a daily basis, as well as checking the work done by other interns and completing a daily log.

Usually interns are expected to average ten hours per week, but this may vary based on whether the internship is being taken for course credit. Regardless, being a Key Vote intern is definitely a big commitment, and I suggest that no one take it lightly.

Fall 2011

Student: History & Spanish Senior
Position: Legislative Intern

I work in an internship for the organization named “Project Vote Smart” which is a research organization whose goal is to inform the American public on voters’ issues, legislative information, structure of the government, and who believes what in the politics world. I work 10 hours a week there and the internship is located off campus on Lake Austin. The organization is specifically non-partisan and forces its interns to sign an agreement to not show bias in the work they submit for its website.

I first found out about this organization when I went to a Liberal Arts Career And Internship Fair. What motivated me above all else probably was the fact that they had given me an interview on the spot, which really helped speed the process along. The other major factor that motivated me to join was that I would be taking a government course in the following semester, and due to my lack of skill in government material back in high school, I decided it would be a good idea to augment my learning with this government oriented internship. In hindsight, this actually worked. I did extremely well in my government course, and I owe it to my internship for helping me along the way.

As for the environment in which I work, it is your standard office environment with cubicles, office building, supervisor’s office, etc. You get your own laptop to work with and you are on your own schedule to complete assignments. The office is very relaxed but work still gets done on time, and even ahead of time. Projects are constantly being thought up by the supervisors and the higher-ups really do listen to the voice of the people in the lower ranks of the organization when it comes to ideas for how to improve the website or the organization in general. The work is made up of these random projects which have to do with current legislation or broader topics such as texting while driving or medical marijuana bills. The normal work is summarizing or correcting summaries on a set template over legislation made by either the national or state legislatures.

Fall 2011

Student: Plan II Honors Junior
Position: Legislative Research Intern

This semester I served as a Legislative Intern at Project Vote Smart (PVS), a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate voters and simplify the complex nature of politics for the purposes of civic engagement.  As an intern for PVS, I worked ten hours a week.

The legislative internship at PVS entails three primary duties:  tabulating votes for officials on state and congressional bills, composing summaries of state and congressional legislation, and peer-reviewing fellow interns’ vote tabulations and legislative summaries for accuracy and non-partisan format.   In order to prepare for these duties, I began the internship with training.  In training, I read about processes in government, how to use the website of PVS, and how to compose summaries in the desired format.

After completing training, my work became very independent.  I would stop by the supervisors’ office and pick up a folder from a drawer. When I would finish either entering votes, writing a summary, or peer reviewing a folder, I would return it to the drawer and start on a new folder.

In addition to these three primary duties, my supervisor would periodically give me additional projects to complete.  I composed “legislative wrap-ups,” one-page essays on the legislative sessions of two states, and I also researched government vetoes for two states and added them to the PVS website.

The intern supervisors at PVS were always very approachable and willing to answer questions.  A PVS board member even flew east from Arizona to meet with each of the interns in order to explain the history and purpose of the nonprofit organization.

Fall 2011

Student: Government Junior
Position: Key Votes Intern

Project Vote Smart’s Key Votes Internship Program at the University of Texas at Austin provides a unique view into the study of American and State politics that you wouldn’t get in a classroom. Interns are expected to research bills, compile voting records of legislators, while gaining experience in political research, the U.S. political system, and the election process. Project Vote Smart (PVS) is an independent, non-partisan source that works to help voters easily get accurate information about those who govern, candidates, and key legislation. By providing information in an easy to understand manner, the citizens can better defend themselves from the political hype and skewed characteristics of political campaigns. The Key Votes office is located inside the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation and is part of the UT campus.

Interns at PVS will be working in the legislative research part of the company, tracking and summarizing key congressional and state votes. The program provides great experience conducting research, summarizing legislation and learning deeply about the current important political issues. Interns work at least 10 hours a weak. Primary responsibilities include entering and checking state votes, writing bill summaries, editing, and updating the status of the bills as full-chamber votes or as gubernatorial actions occur.

Spring 2011

Position: Vote Smart Intern
Student: Government/American Studies Senior

As a Project Vote Smart intern, students work as a legislative researcher. You are given complete control and flexibility of your schedule, so long as you are keep your supervisor informed, therefore there is no specific time you must clock in, but you are required to work at least ten hours a week.

Once you start your shift, you will need to log on to the Vote Smart admin system. Then, in your supervisor’s office you will either pick up the folder of the bill you were researching last or start a new bill. The first step is to create a bill summary sheet in which you must be able to comprehend how to read a bill’s history. Essentially what this means is that the bill has gone through multiple committees and has been voted on multiple times. It is a researchers job to be able to locate and comprehend what each reading means. For instance, the second reading is almost never used, the third reading is when a bill is passed or not. Also, there is a difference between the introduction of a bill and the first reading.

Once we have determined all the basic information of a bill such as date passed, date introduced, sponsors, and the numbers of yeas and nays, we must put the information we just filled out on the summary into the admin system. This works much of the same way except you must create a different “status” or entry for the bill for each stage it has gone through, excluding anything but the passage vote and committee hearings (usually). For instance, you will always have an introduced status and at least one passage status, from either the house of the senate. After you have created a passage status you will have to accurately input the votes that were taken on that day. This is the most administrative part of the internship. It’s essentially data entry, but it can take up very little of an intern’s time if he or she works hard. In fact, it is possible to skip the vote entering all together and only do the next part, summaries, but entering votes is a great service to many of the constituents of these representatives. Once the votes have been accurately recorded in the admin system and everything has been saved, you will need to put the folder back where it will not be checked over by two other interns as well as your supervisor. This is to ensure total accuracy. You can now choose to write a summary or do another vote entry. If you choose a summary, you follow much of the same. Hopefully, your fellow interns have already created the bill summary sheet with the basic information, but if not, you will need to do so. Once you have that, you must open up the file for the correct state and bill number you decided to summarize and find the press file and the bill text. The press file is there to help guide you on what is the most important aspect of the bill you are about to read, basically, what needs to be highlighted. Once you have read the bill you create a small synopsis of the bill, about one sentence long. Then, you must highlight the bill, starting each highlight with a non-partisan, Vote Smart approved, action word. For instance, you are not allowed to say “the bill changes existing policy” but rather “amends.” Changes could suggest partisanship. After you read the bill in its entirety and you have saved the summary to the bill’s folder, you return the file to your supervisor where he or she reviews it  and then it is, like the vote entries, checked by two other interns and the supervisor who tracked that particular state.

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