For a good while now, the White House has accepted petitions from members of the public via its “We the People” website. However, much like many aspects of the White House’s online presence, the website was quickly becoming out of date for the modern age of internet use. With that in mind, the White House has completely overhauled their petitions website, in a bid to give the website a modern refresh and allowing for easier mobile use.
According to the Verge, the main focus of the redesign was to remove aspects of the website that visitors simply weren’t using. The White House pointed out that many users were simply visiting the website in order to view, sign, and share petitions, and with that in mind, they removed the extras getting in the way. According to the White House, “That means it’s also way simpler for people — no matter their age, location, or level of technical prowess — to participate in petitioning. That’s a critical step in ensuring that We the People remains universally accessible.”
As reported by Re/Code, “We the People” was launched by the White House in 2011 in order to better allow the people of the United States to hold their government to account, whilst also offering a way to enact the Constitutional right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” in the modern age. Since it’s inception in 2011, the platform has been largely successful, attracting 446,435 petitions and nearly 33 million signatures.
The platform works in a similar manner to many of the other petition websites offered by governments around the world, in the respect that anyone is able to go online and create a petition. Once that petition reaches 100,000 signatures, a number that was previously 25,000, the White House will make an attempt to respond.
Since its launch in 2011, the service has received both positive and negative feedback. Whilst many have praised the website for offering a real method to get involved in government, critics have also slammed the White House’s efforts as more of a PR move than a democratic one. Criticism towards the White House’s petition website is no surprise, however, especially considering the obscenity of some petitions posted to the platform. For example, a petition in the past has called for the government to build a Star Wars-inspired death star. That being said, the White House was keen to point out that their “We the People” website has been used for good too.
In 2015, the White House acknowledge that there were fundamental issues with the platform. At which point, they promised to give the system a new lease of life and improve their capability in terms of responding to petitions. The White House quickly began to work through the backlog of petitions, with a target to respond to all future petitions within a period of 60 days. With today’s new design implementation and efforts to simplify the process of petitioning the federal government, it’s pretty clear that the White House isn’t giving up on “We the People” just yet.
White House Chief Digital Officer Jason Goldman did point out one of the key issues that they’ve had with the platform and that’s people creating and signing petitions that don’t qualify for federal consideration. The platform often sees petitions regarding local and state issues, which because of the Bill of Rights, the White House is unable to act on. Whilst Goldman has worked to help users better understand whether or not their petition is in the right place or not, it could lead to state-run versions of the “We the People” website at some point in the future.
[Image via the White House]