Meet The Civic Hacker Who's Making Congress More Accountable

Apr 11 2014, 5:32pm CDT | by

Meet The Civic Hacker Who's Making Congress More Accountable
Photo Credit: Forbes Business

“You don’t get many tech people in politics,” says Ted Henderson, a 29-year-old self-confessed ‘nerd through and through’ who’s been programming since kindergarten. The ex-staffer started ‘hacking’ Congress in 2013, reverse-engineering a radio signal which alerts congressmen that it’s time to vote in the House. He built out an app around it, Capitol Bells, which became a popular go-to for congress members and their staffers, giving them a quick and easy snapshot of what bill was being voted on when and where without having to be glued to CSPAN 24/7.

Now he’s gone a step further, creating a platform allowing the public to voice their opinions on bills and see how they compare to their congressman. You can review the bills within the app that Congress are voting on and upvote and downvote them, like on reddit, instantly creating an anonymous, visible record of your position. You can also tap the bill number or title to follow the hashtag on the bill to a conversation about it on Twitter.

Henderson hopes the app will bring voters back into a decision-making process he feels has squeezed them low on the priority list. When congressmen vote they hear from their colleagues, lobbyists (who were probably also at one time colleagues), party leadership and trade and advocacy groups, he says.

“There are a lot of broken incentives,” says Henderson. “The last people who really factor into decision making are the constituents because they’re the farthest away.”

This disconnect between constituents and the politicians that represent them is starkest at election time, says Henderson. “I think that’s one of the hardest things when you go and vote – other than saying this guy’s a Democrat, I’m a Democrat, this guy’s a Republican I’m a Republican, you really have no idea what they’ve been doing for you, unless you remember one big thing or one big scandal.”

“You have no idea what the record was, you have no idea how well he represented you which is the job that he’s been hired for, we’re electing them to be representatives,” says Henderson.

Henderson’s vision is utilizing a data layer which works both ways – allowing people to discuss and question what a bill means to them while at the same time giving congressmen and advocacy groups clear messages on their constituents.

“When we’re talking about voters it’s good to know how many people there are, where they’re from, what it is that engages them – is it death panels that got them riled up? Was it preexisting conditions?” Henderson is building a platform he hopes will give a clear quantitative answer.

“Polls are useful but I also want to have a system of tickers of bills in a way,” says Henderson. “So it’s like, here’s the way this bill is trending across the country. Here are the messages that people are listening to, here’s how candidates are tracking, here’s how members of congress are tracking. This is how well a member of congress is performing, here’s how well the bill is performing.”

Henderson expects adding a ‘data layer to democracy’ will be a means of generating profit. So far it’s just him and a part time programmer who works remotely. The 29 year old raised a seed round of $30,000 and now he says he’s looking for around half a million to scale up operations and hire more programmers.

“That kind of data is whether you’re a campaign or advocacy group is something that could be useful to you and campaigns in the US are a multibillion dollar industry.”

Henderson has a vision for Capitol Bells as the main online political gateway. It would have been particularly useful, he says, after the Sandy Hook shooting when no one knew where to direct their concerns aside from writing letters to their Congressman. “This is where people weigh in on whether people buying guns should get background checks,or figure out who you should be voting for,” says Henderson.

“There’s no standardized data for campaigns in the US. It’s all proprietary tools, proprietary data sets and it’s all kind of lousy,” he laughs. “It’s time for the nerds to come to DC.”

Crucially the enterprise adds accountability. With Capitol Bells a member of Congress would have to “explain what he wants to do first and get approval to do it rather than get approval and explain afterwards,” says Henderson./>/>

 
 

Don't miss ...

 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

18th Saarc Summit concludes with one pact, several understandings
Kathmandu, Nov 27 (IANS) The 18th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) Summit concluded in Kathmandu Thursday with the adoption of a 36-point Kathmandu Declaration.
 
 
British supermarkets sold contaminated chicken
London, Nov 27 (IANS) Eight of the every 10 fresh chickens bought from British supermarkets this summer were contaminated with the potentially lethal food-poisoning bug campylobacter, the food watchdog has said.
 
 
SJVNL signs pact with Nepal for hydro-power plant
Kathmandu, Nov 27 (IANS) Indian public sector company Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd. (SJVNL) has signed a project development agreement with the Nepal government for executing the 900 MW Arun-III Hydro Electric Project in eastern Nepal, officials said Thursday.
 
 
'I saw humans on Mars in 1979': Ex-NASA employee
New York, Nov 27 (IANS) A woman claiming to be a former NASA employee has stated that while watching some footage, she saw two humans walking on the Red Planet towards the Viking Mars lander in 1979.
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Ukraine's newly elected parliament holds first session
Kiev, Nov 27 (IANS) The newly-elected Ukrainian parliament held its first session Thursday to swear in lawmakers and form committees. The incumbent parliament Speaker, Olexandr Turchynov, hosted the inauguration...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Saina, Srikanth seeded 5th, 6th for Super Series Finals
Kuala Lumpur, Nov 27 (IANS) Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal and leading Indian male shuttler Kidambi Srikanth were seeded fifth and sixth, respectively, Thursday for the $1,000,000 World Super Series Finals Dec...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Chowrasia, Lahiri joint leaders in King's Cup
Khon Kaen (Thailand), Nov 27 (IANS) Indian golfers S.S.P. Chowrasia and Anirban Lahiri took a share of the opening round lead of the $500,000 King's Cup at the par-72 Singha Park Khon Kaen Golf Club here Thursday....
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Greek unions in second general strike this year
Athens, Nov 27 (IANS/EFE) Greece was hit Thursday by the second general strike in a year called by labour unions to protest government austerity policies which include public sector job cuts and labour law reform...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Saina, Kashyap seeded 5th, 6th for Super Series Finals
Kuala Lumpur, Nov 27 (IANS) Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal and leading Indian male shuttler Kidambi Srikanth were seeded fifth and sixth, respectively Thursday, for the $1,000,000 World Super Series Finals Dec...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Modi, Sharif bonhomie gives fresh boost to Saarc (Roundup)
Kathmandu, Nov 27 (IANS) In a final ice-breaking moment, that gave a huge boost to Saarc and floundering regional cooperation, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shook hands with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Now, flying robots to serve as waiters in Singapore
Singapore, Nov 27 (IANS) If you are planning to visit Singapore next year, don't be surprised if you were greeted and served a sumptuous meal by flying robots as waiters in some restaurants. Infinium-Serve, the...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Four Afghans, one Briton killed in Kabul suicide attack
Kabul, Nov 27 (IANS/EFE) A British national and four Afghans were killed Thursday in a suicide attack on a British embassy vehicle in Kabul which left 34 others injured, officials said. The attack occurred at 10.30 a....
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Badminton to continue testing of five-game scoring system
Kuala Lumpur, Nov 27 (IANS) The Badminton World Federation (BWF) Thursday decided to continue with the testing variations of the best of five games. "Following the recent BWF Council meeting in Lima, Peru, members...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Two arrested in France for jihadi propaganda
Paris, Nov 27 (IANS) French police arrested a couple in Ain, central east France on charges of belonging to an alleged jihadi propaganda network, media reported on Thursday. A French man in his thirties, who converted...
Read more on Politics Balla