There is an interesting company named VoteTocracy. It bills itself as, “The online citizen voting site for bills in Congress.” They have a nice tagline as well, “VoteTocracy exists to level Main Street and K Street.” If nothing else you have to admire their vision.
If you surf through their site the depth of information provided about things like bill status, research on issues, the stances and voting records of individual senators and representatives, agreement with colleagues, party members, national voters (see graphic)and one’s own views, etc., is impressive.
The reason this is so relevant is that VoteTocracy has added another useful arrow to its quiver with the launch of a new Google (News - Alert) Chrome extension. The extension, which will soon be joined by versions for the Safari and Firefox browsers, allows users to view decision makers and bills discussed in news articles and immediately and directly contact government representative without leaving the article.
The utility being provided in terms of ease-of-access to information and what can best be called ease-of-expression has been well designed. Once the Chrome extension is installed, users are automatically prompted to place their cursor over the name or bill in an article, enabling a small engagement box to appear. As VoteTocracy then explains:
“For example, if an article had the names Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren or any other Congressmen, those names would be highlighted. From there, users can directly email members of the legislature directly or vote Yes or No on the bill itself. The VoteTocracy extension allows citizens' voices to be heard, while having a positive, timely impact on legislation.”
An informed and engaged citizenry
We in the U.S. live in fascinating and seemingly contradictory times. On the one hand, thanks to social media we all can give voice in real-time on any subject that interests us and politics is the mother load for people wanting their voices to be heard. However, there seems to be a disconnect between being vocal and having impact. This is only amplified by the toxic nature and increasing coarseness of what passes a political discourse.
Let’s face it more often than not views are shaped by the converted talking to the convinced based on carefully constructed “facts” which are nothing more than somebody’s talking points. These become the join of the realm, regardless of their veracity, for disseminating one’s views or for trashing those of others. As VoteTocracy notes, “Everyone has an opinion regarding our nation's problems, however, speaking out on social media sites and utilizing hashtags is not an effective form of advocacy. In fact, ‘hashtag activism’ has no long term impact on serious political and social issues.”
The challenge is that while there is a very noisy minority of the population who wish to speak up or speak out and now have great tools for doing so, the coarseness of dialog, online and in congress, has alienated a large part of the populace. This is reflected in some disturbing numbers:
The founding fathers of the U.S. , who fomented a revolution to assure the right to vote, would be aghast at the antipathy citizens have toward actual participation in the process.
Further complicating things is that the approval ratings for Congress are at an all time low. Average citizens when you add it all up seem to be saying that even voting has little impact on their elected officials so why bother. Interestingly, when a topic impacts us specifically, even those disenchanted and turned off by the process can be motivated to at least vent. VoteTocracy points to a 2008 report by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF )which back then found that 200 million messages are sent to Congress every year. This leaves open just how many contacts are made now thanks to social media and other online capabilities. We may not turn out, but can get turned on when the occasion arises.
VoteTocracy’s mission is to close the loop between having merely a voice and having impact. "People are frustrated with Congress yet at the same time feel powerless. Approval ratings for Congress are at an all-time low," says VoteTocracy CEO David Kraljic. "VoteTocracy can provide Americans the opportunity to truly impact our elected officials whose decisions affect our lives."
"People are most activated about an issue or an action taken by a Senator or Representative when they are consuming media," continues Kraljic. "They might read an article about a new piece of legislation and be angered or supportive of it. It is at that moment that they need to take action, and the VoteTocracy Chrome extension allows them to do just that."
Whether VoteTocracy can achieve the critical mass of participation that can really change minds in Congress is a chapter to be written. However, as noted, you have to admire the effort.