Project Vote Smart Keeps Focus on Political Issues Oregon Group's Toll-Free Number Was in Great Demand during the Presidential Campaign. Project Now Offers `Voter Research Hotline.'

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ONE of the clearest messages of the 1992 campaign was that voters are strongly interested in issues and in seeing that politicians keep their promises. With Jan. 20's inauguration of a new president - who will work with a Congress that has an unusual number of new members - that remains just as true after the election.

This is the working premise of "Project Vote Smart," run by the nonpartisan Center for National Independence in Politics. Based in Corvallis, Ore., the project provided candidate information to nearly 2 million voters, news reporters, and public-school pupils during the presidential campaign. Much of that came through the project's toll-free "voter research hotline" operated out of spare basement offices at Oregon State University.

Building on that success, the organization is now offering free, continually updated information on individual voting records, the fate of key bills as they pass through the legislative process, and campaign financing. The project is also preparing for the 1994 elections.

"Tons of people are calling wanting to know if we're still open," said Adelaide Elm, the hotline's director. "We're getting about 50 calls a day - and that's with no publicity at all."

Those who follow United States politics favor such efforts at continuing voter education. "They have clearly tapped into a vein of public desire for more information on who the candidates are and what they stand for," says Ellen Miller, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics. Political reporter David Broder says "{the project is} out to improve the workings of our democracy."

As Richard Kimball, director of the Center for National Independence in Politics, sees it, this amounts to nothing more than the bosses keeping an eye on the hired help. "In doing this, we hope to help create a citizen-controlled system that allows each of us to evaluate the candidates based on our own unique concerns, and then track their performances once we have hired them for the job," says Mr. …