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Informing the Vote

by Amanda O'Rourke

In what may have been one of the most polarizing presidential elections in U.S. history, voters needed accurate, unbiased information more than ever to help them make the most informed decision possible at the polls.

Three Susquehanna University students—Aminata Diallo, of Bronx, N.Y., Benjamin Foster, of Mobile, Ala., and Liam O'Brien, of Simsbury, Conn.—spent the summer doing just that as interns at Project Vote Smart in Philipsburg, Mont.

Vote Smart's Great Divide Ranch Research Retreat is nestled high in Montana's Rocky Mountains. There, staffers of every age and political leaning lay their partisan differences aside for the crucial task of providing fair, unbiased information to American voters. They research the backgrounds and records of thousands of political candidates and elected officials to discover their voting records, campaign contributions, public statements and biographical data.

Diallo, a political science and international studies major, found herself in the unique position of becoming an integral part of a democratic process that she cannot fully participate in because she has not yet gained full U.S. citizenship.

Diallo immigrated to the United States from Mali, West Africa, when she was just 9 years old.

"At the moment, I'm a permanent resident," Diallo explains. "The immigration process is very complicated and expensive. Though being a permanent resident comes with many benefits, a citizenship status will grant my family and me many more opportunities, such as voting in an election."

A lawful permanent resident is someone who has been granted the right to live in the United States indefinitely. Permanent residents are given what is known as a "greencard," which is a photo ID card that proves their status. Permanent residents continue to remain a citizen of their native country. So every time they travel outside the United States, they must carry the passport of that country as well as their green card and must use their green card to reenter the United States.

The rights of permanent residents are limited as well—they cannot vote and they remain subject to deportation.

After a certain length of time—five years in most cases—permanent residents who have shown good moral character and can speak, read and write English, and pass an exam on U.S. history and government can apply for U.S. citizenship (to naturalize).

While her naturalization is in process, Diallo, a sophomore, spent 10 weeks of her summer at Project Vote Smart, where she researched proposed legislation to help voters better understand the various ballot measures around the country.

The irony is not lost on Diallo. One of her many responsibilities at Project Vote Smart was working the Voter's Research Hotline, a resource voters can utilize if they have questions about a political candidate or issue.

"It was so interesting seeing the extremes and the in-betweens of both political spectrums," she says. "Even though I could not cast a ballot this year, I feel like my work at Vote Smart allowed me to help thousands of voters, whether it was through hotline calls or directly working in the political resource department."

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