June 26, 2019 | 75° F

Countable app engages public in politics

Photo by Edwin Gano |

Politicians are often accused of being out of touch with the American people. One California-based app hopes to change that by making information on pending bills more accessible.

Countable was founded a little over a year ago to help the general public engage with government more, said Eric Schmeltzer, a spokesperson for the app.

“Your basic premise was that people don’t have a good understanding of what bills are being proposed and vote on,” he said. “There is (also) no real two-way communication. There’s no easy way for people to say (how they feel) about a bill (to Congress)."

Christopher Galifi, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said a republic earns its power from the people, so everyone should be involved with the government. At present, that is not necessarily so.

Countable works by providing simple summaries of every bill either proposed or being reviewed by Congress, Schmeltzer said. The bill summaries are categorized by issue and whether the bill is presented before the House of Representatives or the Senate.

Only about a dozen bills are covered in the news over a given time period, but the House and Senate may have up to one thousand bills to consider and vote on in the same frame, he said.

Galifi said only the most controversial bills are featured on the news, but knowing about other bills proposals is important as well.

Puja Deshpande, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year, said it would help knowing what kinds of bills are before Congress too.

According to govtrack.us, a government transparency website, there are nearly seven thousand bills before Congress as of this moment.

After selling off a company called Sidereel, Countable Founder Bart Myers decided to shift gears with this new app. Myers wanted to change Americans’ awareness of these bills, Schmeltzer said.

They were interested in politics, and it seemed there was a huge disconnect in governing and the people who were governed," Schmeltzer said.

Despite technological advancements, many politicians are unable to connect with the population, he said. Simplifying the bills and streamlining the contact process could restore those connections.

Bill summaries are written by people with journalism backgrounds, Schmeltzer said. The writers are trained to be unbiased, and each bill is checked by another writer to ensure objectivity.

The service also provides pros and cons based on what arguments are being made about a bill. 

When the bill is finally voted on, Schmeltzer said the Countable app notifies users on how their representatives voted and allows users to provide feedback to Congress.

Members of Congress have told Countable they receive a large number of emails from the app's users, he said. In its first year, more than two million emails were sent expressing opinions on more than one thousand pieces of legislation.

Users have the option to comment on the bills as well, he said. All comments appear on a user’s profile, along with what bills they voted on. The comments can be up-voted, with the highest ranking comments being featured on the bill’s main page. Comments are not down-voted, and generally are not monitored.

“If there’s profanity or racism, we’re on top of it. We’ll take that down,” Schmeltzer said. “(Otherwise) if it’s just not constructive, it’ll fall to the bottom of the list (of comments) by not being up-voted.”

The ultimate goal of Countable is to encourage more people to connect with their government, he said. At present, a smaller percentage of eligible voters actually vote in elections than eligible voters do in other countries.

This occurs despite the fact that there are a large number of volunteers for political campaigns, he said. Students especially spend time educating potential voters on their candidate’s positions.

Over the next year, Countable will have all presidential candidates on its website as well, he said. These candidates’ pages will be updated based on public policy statements they make.

“We made it really easy for people to figure out not just how to contact Congress but how to figure out what’s going on in Congress,” Schmeltzer said.

Nikhilesh De

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