February 2, 2017

WeThePeople Can Not Petition Our Government

The official platform to petition the United State government appears to have a glitch. The We The People website is a platform in which citizens can sign petitions that directly petition the US government. These petitions differ from others from such sites as change.org or MoveOn in that petitions here come with the guarantee of being acknowledged by the White House within 60 days of receiving the minimum number of required signatures. This means any petition that reaches this requirement will receive an official White House statement. While this has resulted in some pretty hilarious outcomes, such as the White House statement on why it will not build a Death Star, the site has been used for the American people to voice more serious and legitimate concerns.

Right now, however, it appears that the citizen ability to directly petition the White House is having some glitches.

At least one petition is not showing up on the main page. It can be accessed by direct link. It could be due to a lack of signatures. 150 are needed for a petition to become searchable. However, signatures are not being registered. I know – I attempted to sign at least one petition and the signature count has not changed. Here are screencaps are the entire process:

The first image shows that at 11:07, the signature count is 1. The last image shows the signature count is still 1 at 11:08. Several friends of mine have also signed this particular petition. I do not have screencaps of their signatures and verifications, so you’ll have to take my word for it at the moment. However, even with just mine, the signature count should be at least 2.

Further, the reason why I failed to directly link the official White House statement regarding the Death Star response above is that while the slug is correct, it opens to a blank page. Using the Internet Archive, we can see it here. We can see that the site was live on January 17, 2017. But checking for January 21, 2017, we have a blank page.

Of course, we might attribute this to the administration change and nothing malicious. After all, the Death Star petition was considered largely frivolous. But it does set a precedent for erasure. What happened to all the state secession petitions?

The We The People petition site was put into place by the Obama administration in order to ease the process by which the general public can bring particular concerns to the attention of Congress. The site was a technological solution to a First amendment right that states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The right to petition Congress is codified in the First Amendment. The Obama administration set up the We The People website to streamline the petitioning process so that we might exercise this right.

With the website not working as it should, we are not without options. However, the public will have to go through more tedious and potentially more rigorous means for petitioning Congress. I can not help but wonder if the petition process will be subject to similar regulation like our voting laws, where ID will be required and verified before signatures will be allowed.

Update: it seems that signatures on some petitions have been increasing. I have noticed other glitchy patterns in the petitions on further study such as petitions only starting on certain days, appearing to reach the minimum 150 threshold to appear publicly on the same days, and being taken down for expiry on the same days as opposed to behaving more randomly. Please pass on your suspicions to your congressperson or local media or anyone you know who can update with information on how the site is working. I am personally hoping it is technical errors and mistakes in the transition time. However, it has been a fair amount of time for the new administration to take over the management of this particular channel so one might expect a bit more consistency in its performance.

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