Tag Archives: elections

Want to get Politically Active? There’s an App for That

In the first days of Donald Trump’s presidency the flames of political passion were, and continue to be, intense. People of both political parties are calling for change and make no mistake, no one is completely happy. Black people especially are unhappy with the rehetoric and the people in Trump’s administration. We need to get politically active and make our voice heard. There’s an app for that.

But before we start talking about technology and political activisim we need to identify who our elected representative is, how to contact them and how to influence them.  African-Americans need to speak out, be heard and vote! Get Yo Black Ass Out and Vote!

To determine who is representing you locally, at the state level and in Washington visit CommonCause.org. You can enter you address and find out in seconds who is speaking for you. The information includes their names, phone numbers, web pages and email addresses. You can also check USA.gov. There are numerous websites dedicated to finding this information just search and you shall find.

The best way to get in contact with your elected representative is still a good old fashioned phone call. You can email them, write a letter or you can make an appointment to see them. Its their job to answer you.  The Constitution gives you the right to “Petition the government for redress of issues.” That means your represenative is obligated to answer your questions. Another effective way to make your voice herd is to write to the editor of the local newspaper. Learn more about how to influence your elected representative by visiting the Congressional Management Foundation website.

But if you own a smartphone you can easily contact, track and weigh in on what your representative is doing. The Countable app is a news and information app that allows the user to understand and vote on the bills being considered by their representative. Countable explains the issues in plain english and sends your “Yay” or “Nay” directly to your representative. Countable is free and available for Apple and Android devices.

 

 

Another app for tracking bills is called TrackBill. This app not only follows what is happening in Washington but also in your state capitol. Available for Apple and Android.

 

 

 

Brigade – This app is a combination social media platform and political information resource. You actually take a quiz on the issues that allows the app to profile your stance. It also helps you find you representatives. But keep in mind, like any social media forum, you are going to get a lot of partisan viewpoints. Hey, its politics. Brigade is available for Apple and Android.

 

 

One of the things all black people should focus on is local politics. Remember, these are the issues that affect you directly. Right there in your city, county or neighborhood. OpenStates website helps you accomplish this by using your smartphone position to tell you exactly who to contact about an issue. The site is easy to use and reader-friendly with outlines of local bills that are being considered and one that have been passed.

 

 

We are all looking for a non-partisan answer to the issues that impact us. Its a nice dream but not so easily attainable. But Ballotpedia tries to be that nonpartisan reference guide breaking down the results of elections and providing an overview of bills that are currently being debated. It also provides details about elected representatives for all levels of governmant. The website also can send you email updates. You can find a fact checker on the website as well called “Verbatim.In case you want to check those alternative facts.

Now you know.

Websites that Empower Black Voters

Get Yo Black Ass Out and VoteElection season is here and on November 4th African-Americans are again offered the priceless opportunity to vote and flex our political muscles. And in this upcoming election cycle that is exactly what we need to do. The black vote is the key to Democrats holding the Senate.

According to a Washington Post report President Obama received a dire warning about the upcoming mid-term elections. A political pollster predicted  “crushing Democratic losses across the country” if the party did not do more to get black voters to the polls.

“African-American surge voters came out in force in 2008 and 2012, but they are not well positioned to do so again in 2014,” Cornell Belcher, the pollster, wrote in the memo, dated Oct. 1. “In fact, over half aren’t even sure when the midterm elections are taking place.”

“Anybody who looks at the data realizes that if the black vote, and the brown vote, doesn’t turn out, we can’t win. It’s just that simple,” said Representative Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, referring to African-American and Latino voters. “If we don’t turn out, we cannot hold the Senate.”

“It’s pretty clear that the black vote can, and does, decide elections.” 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau black voter turnout has surpassed that of white voters. African-Americans were the only race or ethnic group who’s turn out at the polls increased in 2012. Most of the increase was in the Midwest and Southeastern U.S. At the same time the number of white voters declined for the first time since 1996 despite an increase in the population.

Pew Black VoteResearch by the Pew Research Center showed that black people are turning out in greater numbers and this is not linked to a population increase. Pew Research also revealed that the black voter turn out had nothing to do with black candidates or President Obama. “Unlike other minority groups whose increasing electoral muscle has been driven mainly by population growth, black’s rising share of the vote in the past four presidential elections has been the result of rising turnout rates,” the report stated.

Even though black people have made great political progress over the last 50 years we still have the problem of fighting voter apathy. President Obama was asked about the efforts to restrict the voting rights of minorities. According to a report published on the TheHill.com President Obama believes that it’s voter apathy not voter ID efforts that is the greatest hindrance to minority voting.

“Most of these laws are not preventing the overwhelming majority of folks who don’t vote from voting,” Obama said during an interview with Rev. Al Sharpton. “Most people do have an ID. Most people do have a driver’s license. Most people can get to the polls. It may not be as convenient, it may be a little more difficult.”

The President went on to say; “The bottom line is, if less than half of our folks vote, these laws aren’t preventing the other half from not voting,” Obama said. “The reason we don’t vote is because people have been fed this notion that somehow it’s not going to make a difference. And it makes a huge difference.”

But being politically active requires more than just voting. Black people need to pay closer attention to what is happening in Washington D.C. as well as locally. Not only do we need to vote but hold our representatives accountable for their actions. It makes a difference in every aspect of African-American life.

There are many online resources for empowering the black voter. These sites get our message to our elected representative as well as monitor what that person is doing, how they vote and who is putting money in their coffers; black representatives as well as white.

In May of this year the AACR reported on a new website named Countable.us. Click here to see that report. Countable.us is a powerful website that monitors the bills currently working their way through Congress. Once you register the site will show you your representative if you don’t know who they are. Countable.us  will give you a short synopsis of the bill, the argument for and against, what it is is designed to do and who is sponsoring it. Countable.us gives black voters the chance to vote “YEA” or “NAY” on the bill and send that information directly to your elected representative via email. You can also find your elected representative by going to the U.S. House of Representatives website and entering your zip code.

Like all voters African-Americans have the right to see our elected representative. These people are there to represent you and they are obligated to at least acknowledge your view. So black people speak up. Its easy to get face-to-face with these politicians. You can get a lobby visit which is a meeting where you express to your elected representative  how you feel about about a certain issue or bill. And you don’t have to go to Washington either. Members of Congress may have one or more offices in their congressional district depending on its size. Your representative may not be there often but there are permanent staff members at each office with whom you can meet.  Elected representatives often visit their home districts during Congressional recess and often hold town hall meetings and office visits during this time. For more detailed information about meeting your elected representative visit the ACLU website.

Black voters have the right to know is who is putting money into the coffers of our elected representative. Lets be real; money equals access. If you want an elected representative to really hear you you need to speak in dollars and vote. It’s the reality of our democracy. You can get a good idea who is spending money and influencing your representative by visiting the OpenSecrets.org website. All the money that comes into political campaigns must be reported. You can see who gave what to whom just by searching that person’s name at the Federal Elections Commission website.

Other websites that expose the influence of money in politics include Maplight.org and Campaignmoney.com.

MapLight Big Social Logo 3

So who is your representative listening to? You can see who influences your representative and his campaign by visiting the SunlightFoundation.org website. This site offer a listing of websites that can help you track every dime your representatives takes in. The information is also available from the Federal Election Commission.

Another great site for black voters is Corporations.org. This website will reveal the campaign contributions and voting record of your elected representatives. As black people we don’t automatically trust politicians not even the black ones. That’s being real about it. So if you want to know who gave your representative money and how that money affected his or her vote then check this site. You can can see your representative’s voting record there. Govtrack.us is another site that allows you to see your representatives voting record. This site is up to to date and will show you the last major vote and who voted how. You can search votes by your district by entering your zip code.

Other sites that allow you to track and research your representatives voting record include;

Washington Post U.S. Congress Votes Database

The Library of Congress Thomas Roll Call Votes

OpenCongress.org

Elected members of Congress are held to a higher standard. Even the most junior member of Congress holds an immense amount of power and influence. But are these people trustworthy? Not always and that is why politicians are seen in such a negative light especially by black voters. All voters, not just African-Americans, need to know who is misbehaving in Washington. There are websites for that as well. You can see what representatives were, or are currently, being investigated for ethics violations by doing a little research at the Citizens for Responsible and Ethics in Washington or CREW website. Right now this site reveals on its homepage 17 members of Congress that are currently under investigation. The list contains 10 Republicans and 7 Democrats and some pretty well known names like former Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann and Democrat Bobby Rush, civil rights activist and former Black Panther. By clicking any of the names you can get a synopsis of the charges and who is doing the investigating.  You can also see the latest legal filings by CREW aimed at members of Congress.

Other site that keep track of Congressional investigations include;

OpenCongress.orgGovtrack logo

Office of Congressional Ethics

House Committee on Ethics

Govtrack.us

 

The bottom line is you need to “Get Yo Black Ass Out and Vote!” Black votes count! It’s really too important to ignore when you see what is happening to black people everyday. Think about what we go through even to this day. We have a black President but is that really enough? We see how he is treated and dis-respected almost everyday. Part of the blame lies with us. What politician would dare do and say the things they have said about the President of The United States if they truly respected black voters? We are not asking  to be treated special just fairly. And the only way to get fair treatment and respect as citizens is to vote. Do you need to be reminded of the beatings and murders that took place so black people could vote? So why don’t you “Get Yo Black Ass Out and Vote!”?

Countable.us Website Can Empower Black Voters

MLK voteIn a democracy you have a right to speak and be heard. A new website has begun to funnel the voice of the voter directly to the halls of Congress.

Internet start-up Countable.us is just the latest website focusing on delivering the desires of the voter directly to their elected representatives. Launched just this week Countable.com gives voters a quick and understandable explanation of  the bills their representatives in Washington are currently considering. The website lets the voter instantly dispatch emails to their representatives expressing how they would like them to vote.

The creators of Countable.com, Peter Arzhintar and Bart Myers, decided they wanted to improve the political process using the Internet. The result was a website that explained to the voter the basic issues of the bill in plain English. 

In order to use the Countable website you need a Facebook account. Countable uses your Facebook profile to determine your name, location, and your national representatives. The website then displays a series of bills your representatives are expected to vote on. Each one has a short summary of the bill’s pros and cons. The voter can click “yea” or “nay” to automatically send an e-mail to their representatives, or simply click “skip” it.  If the voter desires more details they can click on the bill’s name to pull up more details, including voting activity, costs, links to media coverage, and the full text of the bill.

Countable also tracks how your representatives voted on bills compared to the way you wanted them to vote. This produces a “compatibility ranking” for each one. But since every websites need money to survive a lot of the data is used for advertising. Countable is currently working on a Apple app for smartphones.

One of the things Countable is aware of is the complicated nature of bills. The company is challenged with providing enough information for voters to develop informed opinions without overwhelming them. “Fortunately, most pieces of legislation can be reasonably straight forward,” Myers says. “It’s when you get into complicated legislation with different political motivations associated with it that things get hard.”

Bills moving through the halls of Congress become more byzantine and shadowy as they pass from committee to committee. Politicians are famous for adding amendments to bills that increase spending or add regulations that are completely unrelated to the original bill. They are called earmarks. Countable.com will post updates to bills that have such riders. “Being able to call that out is actually a benefit in what we do,” says Myers.

But is this form of communication really as powerful as it seems? Anyone can email their elected representative and there is no method for verifying if the person is actually a constituent.  Countable  has no way of verifying this information either. This fact leaves the information open to unsavory influences. For example a lobbyist, advocacy group or political action committee could somehow skew the information an elected official may receive. But according to  Myers most representatives are looking for ways to gather data from their constituents. “Most of them would still prefer to get feedback by phone,” he says. “But millennials can barely call their parents, let alone their representatives.”

Other websites using the power of the Internet to stir up democracy include the Madison Project a product of the OpenGov Foundation. The Madison Project is an open source software platform for writing, publishing, and annotating legislation.   The OpenGov Foundation was founded by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca).

“For people who are not inside of government, it really sucks standing on the outside looking inside seeing the government working on something you know about and not having a way to contribute,” says Seamus Kraft, who co-founded OpenGov and served on Issa’s staff. “If you’re an elected official, you don’t have an efficient way to listen to constituents. Those are the two technical things we’re trying to solve.”

The first bill created with Madison was the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (the OPEN Act) in 2011, a response to a Senate bill called the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and a House bill called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). So far no bill created using the Madison Project has become law.

Breaking It Down

Black people have been killed for trying to vote. In our country, our democracy, black people have fallen short of the dreams of Dr. King and other Civil Rights leaders when it comes to using the power of the vote.  Let’s change that.  I have signed up for Countable.com and I encourage you to do the same. But Countable.com is not perfect. I didn’t expect it to be. It’s explanations of bills is too short for my tastes and over simplifies the issues. They can do better. But it does offer a channel for black people to speak up to the elected representatives in Washington and stop being so easily ignored.

Using Countable.com will allow black voters to be heard. Is Countable fool proof? No. But if enough black people use it, trust me they will notice. Its the duty of black people to speak to power. A lot black people seem to live for the latest news about Beyonce, or whats happening on the television program Scandal. They spend hours a day on Facebook. But many of these same black people have no clue as to what is happening in the highest circles of power. These elected officials control how you live!

I am going to say this and I won’t back down; as a black person if you know more about Kanye West than you do about what is happening in Congress then you can consider yourself a tool of the white power structure. Its no secret that some people enjoy the fact that black people have such a poor voter turnout. They count on it! They count on our chosen ignorance. We only hurt ourselves.

We as black people need to participate in the democracy we have here. We need to stand up and speak out everyday and not just when someone offends us. This what the Internet and websites like Countable can help us do.  Do you feel me?