Update on the White House’s new petition website
NCDD supporting member J.H. Snider (president of iSolon.org) has been keeping a close eye on the White House’s new petition website, We The People, and writing frequently on his findings. Here is an update from Jim on his great work…
I have recently written three Huffington Post commentaries on the White House’s new petition website. If you only have time to read one, I’d suggest the one focused on the website’s democratic function:
- “What Is the Democratic Function of the White House’s We The People Petition Website?” from October 20, 2011
- “The White House’s New We the People Petition Website,” from October 11, 2011
- “The Case of the Missing White House Petitions,” from October 31, 2011
There recently have been a spate of a news articles in the British press about the relaunched e-petition website for the House of Commons. Both the differences and similarities between the British and U.S. e-petitions experience may be educational. Here is one of the British commentaries from the liberal Guardian. You can Google for other articles on the same topic.
“Why the e-petitions system isn’t working,” The Guardian, November 16, 2011
Note that as of the morning of Nov. 18 there were 91 comments on this article.
Here is an update since my last Huffington Post commentary on the White House petition website. The data are valid as of 1:00 pm on November 18, 2011.
The rate of new petitions appearing on the White House website has dropped from about 7 a day during its first month in operation to slightly less than half that during its second month.
The number of new petitions reaching the 25,000 signature threshold has dropped more precipitously. Only one petition launched in the last thirty days has passed the 25,000 threshold whereas more than a dozen during its first thirty days did so. Note that it appears that more than one has passed the 25,000 threshold because petitions are left on the website until the White House responds to them.
Given that White House staff were upset with the large number of petitions reaching the threshold for an official response during the first thirty days, they are probably treating this drop-off as welcome news. The drop-off may be self-fulfilling insofar as once people discover that the odds of a new petition reaching the threshold in thirty days are well under one in a thousand (in the first 45 days more than 12,000 new petitions were started), fewer people are likely to invest the huge amount of effort needed to get at least 25,000 signatures.
Note that British (100,000) and American (25,000) petition thresholds cannot be directly compared because the American system creates more roadblocks to reaching the threshold. The British system also creates a much bigger reward for reaching the threshold: a committee debate in Parliament. In contrast, the American system only promises some type of official reply, which may amount to just a few sentences.
J.H. Snider is president of iSolon.org and a 2011-2012 network fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.