Project Vote Smart, a voter-aid group, leaving UA

2010-04-14T00:00:00Z Project Vote Smart, a voter-aid group, leaving UARhonda Bodfield Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 14, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Project Vote Smart, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan political-research organization that was founded in Tucson in the late 1980s, announced this week that it is closing its office at the University of Arizona and leaving town.

With the university system facing deep budget cuts, administrators determined they could no longer offer the deal worked out under the previous administration, which provided rent-free space at a 1,500- square-foot house off the main campus to the organization, which is based in Montana.

Jessica Arrigoni, the project's national board chair, wrote in a letter to supporters that "strenuous" efforts to meet with the current administration were unsuccessful. "The reasons they would not meet with members of our board are as baffling to us as I am sure they are to you," she wrote, noting nearly two dozen other institutions offered to house the program after hearing the project needed a new home.

As a result, the satellite research office at UA will close in December. One research division, which provides citizens with a synopsis of key votes by their elected representatives, will go to the University of Texas. A second division, which tests a candidate's willingness to provide citizens with information on their positions, will go to University of Southern California.

"We have experienced unprecedented reductions in state funding and - as with any organization - needed to make tough choices to focus on the core mission of the university," said UA spokesman Johnny Cruz, wishing the project success in the future.

Vote Smart President Richard Kimball, who persuaded his board to open the office at the UA four years ago, said that while the move will affect six staffers, the biggest loss will be the roughly 50 UA student internships offered each semester. "It's a very unique political experience," he said.

And even though he said "the university is in a great deal of confusion and it wasn't a proper fit any more," he stressed that he was appreciative of the university's support in recent years.

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at rbodfield@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

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