Vote Smart Bus Kicks Off Voyage

WHEELING — A 10,000-mile campaign to help boost the awareness of the nation’s voters kicks off in Wheeling today in a 45-foot-long red and blue bus.

Project Vote Smart is a nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization that quizzes candidates for public office on the issues, compiles their answers and makes the data available to voters.

Today the organization will launch its “Voter’s Self-Defense System” project in Wheeling within its new mobile training center, and the bus is to roll on from there to 100 other communities nationwide prior to the general election in November.

The Project Vote Smart Bus will be parked from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today in front of the City-County Building at 16th and Chapline streets in downtown Wheeling. Local residents will get the opportunity to climb aboard, learn about Project Vote Smart and how to tap into its archive of candidate responses.

“We want to bring all the country together in support of truth, and to inform the public where the candidates stand,” said spokesman Mike Wessler. “We’ve been working on this for 16 years.”

The Voters Self-Defense System provides the public with information pertaining to a candidate’s voting recording, biographical information, issue positions and standings with interests groups. Presidential, congressional and state candidates have been asked to provide information for the archive, and the information can be accessed at votesmart.org.

Project Vote Smart calls its request for candidate information “the Candidate Courage Test.”

That is not to say all have completed the test, according to Wessler. A quick glance at the organization’s Web site shows that only candidates for state Supreme Court justice have submitted their information for this election.

“We test state legislative, congressional and gubernatorial candidates as to whether or not they are willing to tell voters where they stand,” he said. “There has been a lot of resistance from candidates over the years. That is why we are coming to communities this year.”

Guests to the Project Vote Smart Bus will be asked to come on the bus and first will watch a short film about Project Vote Smart, according to Wessler. Next, each will be handed a laptop computer and shown how to tap in to Project Vote Smart database.

Guests also will have the opportunity to sign a 9-foot American flag ball that will travel coast-to-coast with the bus. They may write on it their thoughts about the electoral process, and the ball is to be delivered to federal officials in Washington prior to the Nov. 4 general election.

“I understand a lot of the country is intimidated by the political process, “ he said. “These people don’t get involved, and they abstain from the process because they don’t understand it. Others feel like they’re being manipulated and that the politicians are telling them what they want to hear.”

As for why West Virginia was selected for the launch of the “Voter’s Self Defense System,” Wessler said e-mails were sent to the more than 45,000 supporters of Project Vote Smart asking where the bus should stop.

He estimates that about 400 of these members are in West Virginia, and 100 of them returned the e-mails.

“There is a surprisingly large amount of members in West Virginia per capita, and they sent back e-mails,” he said. “There were more from the state than I expected.”