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Spotlight on CVF

Foundation helps educate the voters

Davis Enterprise, October 24, 2000

Are you still confused about state propositions or wondering which candidate to select?

Then turn to the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization designed to improve voter and civic education and promote Internet disclosure of campaign finanace data.

Kim Alexander, the foundation's president and founder, says the organization was originally run through the California secretary of state's office until it became dormant. She decided to bring the organization back to life in 1994 through the use of the Internet.

"I had been working for the Capitol, and so I had a real bird's-eye view," she says.

Her ideas began developing when the notion of Internet popularity was fraught with skepticism. Still, she pursued her vision, and eventually the California Voter Foundation caught the eye of Geoffrey Wandesforde-Smith, a professor in UC Davis' political science department who wanted to bring Internet technology to his students.

Alexander attributed much of the foundation's current success to UCD student interns and Davis residents, so much so that the foundation is considering moving its operations to Davis after its lease ends.

The foundation's Web site,, has been nationally recognized for its voter education efforts. A section titled "Follow the Money" regularly updates the top 10 contributors to California proposition campaigns. Voters also will find comprehensive, nonpartisan information regarding the propositions, lists of who signed the ballot arguments, news coverage about the legislation and links to campaign Web sites.

Plenty of information regarding presidential, Senate and local candidates is also available.

Saskia Mills, the managing director for the foundation and a UCD graduate, says that even if a voter waits until the last minute to learn about candidtes and ballot measures, the foundation's Web site can still be of use.

"We design the site to allow smooth interaction, even for the day before the elections," she says. "We have a lot of information. Our site is also a clearinghouse for other sources...and we've helped other states with similar projects.

"Every month or so, international visitors will visit our offices so they can apply what they've learned in their own countries where democracy is just getting off the ground."

Alexander says she has always seen the foundation's role as being on "the cutting edge of technology" and to act as a catalyst for future voter education. The organization is heavily involved with Digital Sunlight, a project that honors various Web sites for publicizing federal and state-level campaign finance data.

"We're setting higher expectations for government agencies," Alexander says. "And we do that by proving it can be done. For example, 25 percent of campaign contributions come in the last two weeks before the election, and the only way to retrieve campaign data in the past was to go to the secretary of state's office and leaf through the paperwork, which is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

"What we've provided has been a breakthrough," she continued. "Today, campaign contributors need to be disclosed within 24 hours. We (the foundation) see ourselves as innovators. We show that things can be done and they can be sustained."

Being a nonprofit organization is a distinct advantage when it comes to promoting voter education, Alexander says. The Web site contains no advertising, no registration requirements, no cookies, and no data to sell, something Alexander called a "welcome reprieve."

Mills added that the real benefit of the site is the new attitudes citizens gain about voting.

"For many voters, it's a combination of apathy and being too busy, which can be a vicious cycle," she says. "And people are cynical...but (the California Voter Foundation doesn't) have an agenda. Our site is easy to use and it's available 24 hours a day.

"One of the most satisfying things is hearing someone say, 'I've been voting for 25 years, and I've never felt this prepared.' If you don't have the time, it's not too late. This is a great resource for busy people."

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This page was first published on February 12, 2004 | Last updated on December 9, 2004
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