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Spotlight on CVF

UCSB alum builds clearinghouse for democracy: California Voter Foundation is a one-stop shop for political information

Tri-County Business and Technology Review, April 2002

For years now in California, print coverage of state politics has been lacking.

The major dailies post few reporters to the Sacramento beat; coverage picks up slightly in election years such as this one, but most newspaper stories focus on the "horse race" aspects of the campaigns rather than on policy or legislative news. Local television news has too many apartment fires and car chases to cover to pick up much of the slack. That leaves paid commercials, at best a dubious source of information for Californians weighing how to vote come November.

Enter Kim Alexander, a UCSB alum and the founder and president of the California Voter Foundation (CVF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that uses the Internet to educate voters.

Alexander started CVF eight years ago after she looked at the official voter guide issued by the state and became frustrated with the difficulty of making informed decisions about candidates and complicated ballot initiatives.

"That was the impetus," Alexander said. "We focus on being a clearinghouse of reliable information, the sort of baseline information that people need to participate in democracy in a meaningful way. There's no excuse for that information not being available on line. The good news is that voter education has never been better."

Unlike the League of Women Voters and other organizations with which CVF sometimes collaborates, CVF takes no position on candidates or propoisitions. Its stated purpose is to serve all California voters by providing objective factual information that will allow them to make informed choices.

Alexander sees CVF and similar nonpartisan organizations as the crucial fourth wheel of the voter information wagon, along with the news media, the campaigns and candidates themselves, and the government, which provides official information and instructions, such as the sample ballot. Among these entities, Alexander believes voters may trust dot-org sites most of all, because of their perceived nonpartisanship.

"Surveys have shown that citizens are more likely to turn to dot-org sites," Alexander said. "What makes the California Voter Foundation reliable is what is not there -- no cookies, no registration, and so on. We're about service to the public. People are busy, and they make a rational decision about whether to vote or not. We help them cut to the chase. If you want to be an informed voter, you need to spend a couple of hours."

Alexander is sanguine about the future of on-line voter education. Young people are so comfortable with the Internet and so accustomed to using it in their daily lives, that the percentage of California voters getting their political information online is only going to increase in the years ahead, Alexander said.

"Two years ago we had people saying nonprofit Web sites would never survive," Alexander said. "Endurance is one of the biggest tests of success on the Web. We have been online continuously since 1996, and as long as we remain stable, more people will come year after year. The longer we provide the service, the more people will trust."

CVF spends no money on paid advertisements. The organization receives lots of free media coverage come election time, with Alexander hitting the interview circuit and doing public service announcements. CVF publishes an electronic newsletter, enters into partnerships with other voting organizations, and relies on good word of mouth.

Alexander has mixed feelings about the turnout for last month's primary. "The voter statistics are misleading," she said. "They're not as bad as everybody makes them out to be. In a state as large as California, even with a low turnout we're talking about five million voters. That's a lot of people who need information."

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