Emerging Tech

We the People nets more than 3 million signatures

Flickr user anujbiyani

More than 2.5 million people have signed online petitions posted to the White House’s We the People website since its September 2011 launch, according to its Tuesday blog post.

Those people have appended more than 3 million signatures to about 46,000 petitions, the blog post states.

We the People was designed as an online space where citizens could request government action on issues important to them and rally like-minded co-signers through social media.

Many of those 46,000 petitions did not reach the required threshold of 150 signatures for public posting. Among petitions that did move on to the public site, 112 have received an official response from a government agency.

Those petitions have sought everything from comprehensive immigration reform to humane care for America’s wild horses to, most recently, the White House’s microbrewed beer recipe.

“From the beginning, We the People's popularity exceeded our expectations,” Macon Phillips wrote in the blog post. “Over 600,000 signatures were received in the first 11 days and within two weeks, 81 petitions had reached the initial signature threshold of 5,000 signatures within 30 days.”

The White House raised the threshold for an official response to 25,000 signatures after that initial surge. Since then, 30 petitions have crossed the threshold.

Phillips is the White House digital strategy director and the site’s main champion.

New signatures and users slowed after We the People’s initial surge, but have increased at a steady pace since then, according to a White House graphic. The site reached 1 million signatures in October 2011, less than two months after it was launched, and hit the 1 million unique users mark shortly after that. The site reached 2 million signatures in February 2012 and garnered 2 million users around May.

About 2.7 million people had proffered about 3.3 million petition signatures as of August, according to the graphic.

A similar government petition site launched about one month earlier in the United Kingdom lured in 13 million unique visitors, according to a blog post from the U.K.’s Government Digital Service office.

We the People faced early criticism from some petition signers who claimed the Obama administration’s responses were pro forma statements of White House policy and showed little evidence officials had heard the people’s voices.

Erik Altieri, author of a petition to legalize marijuana called the government’s response to his petition “the same, weak bullet point response we're used to hearing" in a Nextgov interview.

Phillips rejected those criticisms in a March blog post, stating petitions led to serious interagency conversations even if they didn’t routinely lead to new policies.

In Tuesday’s post, Phillips noted that some petitions had indeed affected policy, such as one asking the president to veto the Stop Online Piracy Act if it is passed by Congress, which he said helped “crystallize” the administration’s opposition to SOPA. Another petition asking the government to improve oversight of domestic dog breeders led to a proposed regulation from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Still, the administration has struggled to respond to petitions in a timely manner.

As of Tuesday, three petitions posted during the site’s first two weeks online still were awaiting government responses. They address the military’s treatment of nonreligious service members, mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods and the Palestinian territories’ application for United Nations membership.

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// July 22