Volunteers homeless in name of politics, research

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Ben Kastan has an unstable home.

In fact, his home moves from one parking lot to another each night.

Kastan, a recent college graduate from Washington University in St. Louis, is a volunteer for Project Vote Smart, a non-profit, non-partisan research organization.

The group decided in October 2007 to take its library of information to the roads with a 45-foot tour bus.

The Project Vote Smart bus has made stops in 44 states and traveled more than 37,000 miles since it began in 2007.

Volunteers like Kastan stop in a different city every day and set up tables filled with information about political candidates.

Kastan has been traveling on the program’s tour bus for the past five weeks, living in the bus and parking in lots at strip malls, Wal-Mart and Target each night, Kastan said.

He has seen much of the U.S. during that time.

“I have experienced life all over the South and Midwest,” Kastan said. “I loved the beach in St. Augustine. But the county fair in Western Ohio was really cool. It was a swing state and college town, and I got to experience true Middle America.”

Traveling across the country with Kastan is a giant inflatable ball, which is decorated with signatures and views from people who’ve visited the bus.

Kastan said the ball began at the launch of the bus tour and has been collecting the thoughts of the American people since then.

Kastan said the crew plans to roll the giant ball up the streets of Washington D.C. to the Capitol Nov. 4.

It will provide Washington D.C. different views from UNF students, including one student who added “Dudes, Vote.”

David Jaffee, the assistant vice president of undergraduate studies, thought the student interest was great with the project and the upcoming election in general, he said.

“Interest has been very high with students on this campus compared to other campaigns,” Jaffee said. “Some of that has to do with eight years of one party in office, and students are wanting a change. And a lot of other factors piqued student interest in campaign and what is going on around campus.”

For Kastan, it is relaying the information to interested, questioning students that makes the weeks of travel worth it, he said.

“I might not love living on a bus everyday, but I love the mission of this organization,” Kastan said. “It provides citizens information without the spin and analysis so many other venues are giving. We just present raw data and leave the interpretation up to the voter.”

And that is why Jaffee said the bus was invited on campus.

“This group was perfectly consistent with the American Democracy Project’s views and goals, “Jaffee said. “What is unique about its Web site is that it is a non-partisan and really interested in providing information without the spin some of the other Web sites provide. That was definitely intriguing. We wanted them to come before election and it worked out beautifully.“

E-mail Holli Welch at [email protected]