Voting on Capitol Hill follows a series of buzzes and lights in different patterns, requiring lawmakers and their staff to interpret the signal and respond appropriately — but now, through an iPhone app developed by a former House staffer, members of the public can be alerted alongside the pros that votes are about to happen and can even ring in their own ‘vote’ to let their representatives know how they feel on a measure.
The app, Capitol Bells, was developed by Ted Henderson who had worked for Rep. Dale Kildee of Michigan until Kildee’s retirement this year. Henderson installed a radio receiver near the Capitol that picks up signals from their internal notification system and translates the signals into alerts for various types of vote actions. The app was used exclusively by members and staffers until this week when a massive update to the program allowed members of the public to tap in.
Capitol Bells allows constituents to communicate with members of Congress about their views on legislation in real time as votes are happening — and in turn, lets representatives know where constituents stand more efficiently than private tally sheets of calls and emails to the office
The app also lets users watch the progress of live votes, find bill details, and plug into social media discussions.
Henderson is raising funds to expand the project, and with that, he plans to port it to Android by September 9th when Congress is next scheduled to be in session. He will also add a new tool where users can compare their votes to their member’s votes, and can compare the member’s vote to those of other users in the district.
Karen Cyphers, PhD, is a public policy consultant, researcher, and mother to three daughters.