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How Are You Going To Vote This November?

October 16, 2008

votesmart picture.jpgLaw librarians are regularly called upon to provide information with regards to how individual members of Congress have voted on certain topics.  As both a lawyer and a librarian, I am constantly amazed by the availability of U.S. Government information, including the voting records of our Federal Electorate, which is handily available on the Internet.  This is true process transparency in action, as part of what makes our democratic process great is the ability to hold our electorate responsible for their action (or inaction) through the voting process.  As we are on the heels of an important election, the interests of legal research and the public interest are once again intertwined.  I offer you below some legal resources by which you can make your own accounting before you head to the polls this November.  Beyond the near term elections, this information can help any student of the law track bills, examine a bill’s history, and understand the voting records of our elected officials.

Project Vote Smart is a bipartisan-volunteer organization that has proclaimed itself the “voter’s self-defense system.”  This fantastic website makes accessible the voting records of every candidate and elected official from the President to local government officials in each state.  Another important feature is that the website breaks votes down by subject area to enable voters to examine how candidates cast their ballot on subjects of special importance to them, the individual voters.  Not only is the information readily available and presented in a format that is easily understood, Project Vote Smart provides a variety of search mechanisms, including an area code search, to assist voters to gain information on candidates who hold local government offices that they might not be aware of.  Additionally, the website enables RSS feeds to allow voters to stay informed and updated on a regular basis.

Thus, if you’re nearing Election Day and can’t decide on a candidate for either a federal, state, or local position, I would recommend visiting Project Vote Smart to see where your candidate falls on the issues that interest you.  If, on the other hand, you are interested in examining the roll call votes on a particular piece of legislation that is, or was, pending before either the House or the Senate, then you should also be aware of the official government websites described below.

THOMAS is a source of U.S. Government information that is organized and published by the Library of Congress.  Here, you can gain information relating to the roll call votes on every bill that went before the house (since 1990) as well as the Senate (since 1989) by visiting the roll call vote page.  Additionally, another two sources for examining roll call votes are the Clerk’s office for the House of Representatives and the Secretary’s Office of the Senate.

On each of these government sites, the roll call votes are broken down by Congressional Session and individual bills instead of individual members.  This information, however, when combined with that available through Project Vote Smart, allows any citizen to get the complete picture with just a few clicks of their mouse.