Turning frustration into social change

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Just days after millions took to the streets of DC and the world during the Women’s March, several people question what should happen next.  Thankfully, Joe Trippi provides an option.

The tech savvy political junkie made infusing politics and social media common place as campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean in 2004, long before Donald Trump’s fascination with Twitter.  His latest venture has been working with Countable, an internet startup founded by Peter Arzhintar and Bart Myers, which focuses on giving ordinary Americans more volume to their political voice.  It has an online component designed to simplify the complexity of bills on the floor of Congress.  When a person feels they have a better understanding of what their elected officials are debating they can email their members of Congress expressing how they’d like their members to vote.

The San Francisco-based tech company is one of a growing group of similar organizations giving voters more confidence to reach out to their elected officials; companies like Madison, Democracy OS, and ThinkUp are just a few.

DC resident Jacob Wallace likes the idea.  “People should be able to understand the laws their elected representatives are trying to make law,” he said, “and the people should have more say in what’s going on.”

Arzhintar and Myers, who also founded the web TV company SideReel, came up with Countable because they were interested in what happened with campaign finance reform and SOPA, but were disappointed bills sounded so complexed when written all the legalese.  Both saw there were several sites where people could read the bills, but still not understand them; so, Countable was born.

A Facebook account is necessary to use the service, for now.  Through a person’s account, Countable determines your name, location, and US Congressional representation, followed by the next bill the members are set to vote on in easy to understand wordage. Readers view a short summary of the bill, a list of pros and cons, a chance to click “yea” or “nay” (an automatic e-mail is sent to the Members), a cost estimate, and links to additional resources including the Congressional Budget Office, the official Bill text, and notable press.

Derrick Anderson, a DC resident who’s originally from Georgia has family back home who has used Countable.

“My folks have used Countable in the past, and they both love it,” he said.  “Honestly, I do too.  My dad says he likes it because he can better understand legislation, vote on it, and then see how his US rep voted on it. And trust me, that’s a big big thing.”

Even though Countable has been able to simplify the language and bridge a better relationship between Members and constituents, it doesn’t exactly guarantee similar voting between the two. Added amendments to a piece of legislation is the primary reason, and almost every time the amendment has nothing to do with the primary bill. A Member may like a bill, but not vote for it because the added amendments (i.e. riders or attachments).

Countable’s largest drawback is privacy, and since Countable keeps track of the way a reader may vote and furthermore how often they message their elected officials, this concerns many people, like Virginia resident Juan Castro.

“I’d love to use the service,” he said positively, “but I’m leery of using it without the confidence they won’t pass on my individual views to another company, or use it for their own benefit.”

NOTE:  Countable introduced the ability to record a 30-second video message to elected officials that began in2016.  This gives Members of Congress to put a face to the name of their constituents a chance to personalize their concerns. 

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