Call it Tinder for City Hall legislation — with a simple stroke of the finger, you can tell your supervisor what you think of his or her latest piece of legislation.
It’s a new mobile app called Countable that makes its San Francisco debut Thursday, and it’s just the latest effort in this tech-centric city to bring the sometimes opaque, confounding legislative process into the 21st century.
The app and associated website, www.countable.us, debuted in May 2014 with a focus on federal legislation. The staff writes short, nonpartisan summaries of legislation currently under debate and arguments in favor or opposed.
Users can vote “Yea” or “Nay,” which can be viewed by the legislators who ultimately decide the bill’s fate. Users can also share more detailed opinions of the proposals, receive notifications when a legislator they opt to follow submits new legislation and see who is endorsing various pieces of legislation.
A current posting on the site reads, “Should the U.S. Ban Abortions After 20 Weeks of Pregnancy?” Another reads, “Should Congress Repeal the Affordable Care Act and Start Working on a Replacement?” So far, Countable users have voted more than 1 million times on federal legislation.
New York expansion
The site recently expanded to New York City with blurbs there including “Horse-Drawn Carriages: Should They Be Banned (With Exceptions) in NYC?”
Bart Myers, Countable’s CEO and co-founder, said the company aims to “solve a vexing problem which is giving the everyday person, the nonpolitical person an easy way to directly tell their lawmakers how they think they should vote on issues.”
But will the lawmakers use it? Several local politicians are already on board, including Supervisor Mark Farrell.
‘Voice inside City Hall’
“More input is better,” Farrell said. “I know residents in San Francisco sometimes feel very disconnected from the political process inside City Hall, and my hope is that technology such as Countable emerges as a vehicle for giving residents a voice inside City Hall.”
Farrell said it’s hard for most working people and those with children to make it to weekday board meetings. Unless it’s something they have a personal stake in, such as a development plan for their neighborhood, they probably won’t make the effort.
Residents can e-mail their supervisors or visit their offices, but that, too, takes more effort than a one-click vote on their phone, he said.
Countable certainly isn’t the only effort by the technology sector to tackle the bureaucracy of City Hall. San Francisco Decoded (http://sanfranciscocode.org) provides “the laws of San Francisco for non-lawyers.”
Farrell even got city code changed when a user of that website noted the ridiculousness of an old code section prohibiting people from storing anything but cars in their own garages. Farrell also started a ReimagineSF scholarship program on the site for students who suggest the best improvements to city laws.
The city has also made a lot of its data open to the public, which has led to the private creation of apps for the public good, such as SF311, an app that allows people to quickly report problems such as a broken streetlight or graffiti.
A group spearheaded by David Lee, a political science instructor at San Francisco State University, is currently collecting signatures in an effort to get a measure on the November ballot that would require all city public meetings to be streamed live online and allow people to offer public testimony remotely and have it viewed at meetings.
‘People love it’
Lee said the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People love it,” he said. “They don’t understand why we’re not already doing it.”
Myers, the Countable CEO, said its staff won’t cover everything, but will be at many supervisors meetings and will write synopses for the most important, most interesting or most controversial legislation.
“It’s super-easy to use and super-friendly,” he said. “It’s a way of taking news and making it actionable.”
©2015 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. Contact Heather Knight at email@example.com. Twitter: @hknightsf