How an app called Countable helps people connect to Congress*
*This was originally published on Geektime at https://www.geektime.com/2017/02/10/how-an-app-called-countable-helps-people-connect-to-congress/ on February 10th, 2017. Geektime migrated their site and lost articles published before 2019. As a result, only my own copies of these previously published articles can be made available. Original links are included but broken.
Yes, there is an app for civic engagement
If you’ve been wanting an easier way to contact your local congressperson besides calling their busy phone, there’s an app for that.
Countable is an easy-to-use iOS and Android app that provides impartial summaries of upcoming legislation and gives users a simple way to connect to their representatives and provide feedback on current issues. Each bill is summarized in laymen’s terms and includes unbiased pros and cons, which truly makes understanding and interacting with legislation more accessible than ever. Users’ feedback, whether simply “yea” or “nay” votes or personalized responses, is then forwarded to their respective congresspeople. Users can even send video chats to their lawmakers. This might be the easiest it’s ever been to get involved.
What impresses me as much as its accessibility, however, is Countable’s objective delivery of bill information. I asked Bart Myers, Countable’s CEO, how the app manages to achieve such non-partisan descriptions on every bill. He explained to Geektime that they “have a balanced editorial staff who check each other’s work.” Myers adds, “It’s a pretty rigorous process to ensure we’re not allowing any one person’s political views to affect our summaries.” Despite all this hard work, however, Myers confided that it’s hard to please everyone. “It’s funny,” he said, “Literally on a daily basis we’re told that we’re more right than Breitbart from one person and told we’re to the left of Bernie Sanders by another.”
The bills Countable chooses to cover are equally as non-partisan. In fact, Myers explained to me that they simply “try to cover every bill that is likely to be voted on in Congress and bills that are topical or in the news.” This not only helps voters get more acquainted with what is currently moving through Congress, but it also helps users get to know the leanings of their representatives. Myers explained their mission “is to provide you with a way to evaluate how your own views stack up against your representatives’ views.”
The app has been around since 2014, but given the current political climate, the recent marches and protests, and the flurry of politics-centered articles we’ve all been inundated with on social media, it seems like people are getting more involved than ever, and Countable is in the perfect position to become a go-to app in the name of activism for many. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Countable has seen huge numbers of downloads and interactions this election season and during the first days of Trump’s presidency. Myers gave me some statistics to demonstrate the app’s increasing popularity. From November 8 to the end of January, Countable “has been installed 272,000 times on iOS, gained 295,000 new users, and delivered over 1,500,000 million messages to Capitol Hill.” I have to wonder how many of those messages wouldn’t have been sent out without Countable’s accessibility of information, convenient avenues for action, and encouragement to get involved.
I asked Myers what it’s been like dealing with this deluge of civic engagement. He let me know that, “It’s been unreal, the rebirth of activism. Recent events have given America reason to get involved and take action.” What’s especially laudable to me about Countable’s business is that they don’t care which side of the aisle that action comes from. Myers is pleased to see people from all political leanings speaking up. “I think overall we’ve seen passionate activism on both sides. America never loses if more people get involved in the process.”
One very important implication of Countable’s success is that our representatives might feel like they’re being held to a stricter standard now that it’s so easy for their constituents to keep track of their votes and get involved. In fact, congresspeople are starting to cite Countable specifically in their replies to their voters who contact them through the app. Myers ascertains that this “means that they know their constituents are watching them more and ready to hold them into account if needed.” He said, “We are definitely starting to see politicians start to react more to the pressure they’re under from constituents. On cabinet nominations or executive orders, it seems like pressure is changing votes more than ever before. So given the amount that offices are seeing incoming traffic from our app, we’re pretty confident that it is making a difference.”
Overall, the app lends itself to accountability, not only for our representatives, but also for the voters themselves and their responsibility to be informed. With Countable, that has become easier than ever. The app is a clear and direct way to learn about your representatives, familiarize yourself with what laws are moving through Congress, and ensure your voice is heard, all right from the comfort of your home. If you’re looking to bone up on your knowledge of current legislation, get to know your representatives, or get involved in the political process, Countable is a great, non-partisan resource to begin — or continue — that important journey.