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Holding Congress (Ac)Countable

Lauren Koepp and Kara Smyth pose for a photo after casting their votes on Election Day early Tuesday morning, Nov. 4, 2014 in Austin, Texas.

CREDIT: AP/Tamir Kalifa.

In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, which left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub in Orlando, disputes in Congress over commonsense gun laws continue and many Americans are wondering what they can do to lower the country’s high rates of gun massacres.

Currently, Congress has a 16 percent approval rating, with 79 percent of Gallup poll respondents in September of 2015 indicating that most Congress members are “out of touch” with the public they were elected to represent.

Despite Congress members adjusting strategies to appeal to one of the largest voter-eligible groups, the plugged-in youth, the congressional approval rating among Millennials is consistent with that of the general public.

One app is trying to bridge that gap.

In 2013, frustrated by the lack of cooperation and accountability in Congress, software engineers Bart Myers and Peter Arzhintar created Countable, a website that keeps voters informed of activity on Capitol Hill. In 2014, the company launched an app version of the site.

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“We wanted to give voters–not just voters, any Americans–an opportunity to pierce the veil that is our government and really understand how their representatives represent them, and how they can make smarter decisions come election time, and even day-to-day,” said Myers.

What decisions should be made remains a hotly contested issue, although representatives have been called out by journalists, TV personalities, and fellow lawmakers to do something besides tweets and prayers. After a 15-hour filibuster, a sit-in protest by House Democrats calling for a vote, and despite an estimated 90 percent of Americans supporting universal background checks, Congress has still yet to pass a gun bill in three years.

Myers, Countable’s CEO, says the app has received high traffic on the issue of commonsense gun laws since the Orlando mass shooting that ended 49 lives with a legally acquired assault rifle.

“There’s definitely a lot of passionate interest and concern about all aspects of what happened, and policy is definitely a significant tool in our toolbox to address it,” he said.

Millennials make up the majority of Countable’s one million users. It’s one solution to combat the issue of low voter turnout for a generation with fluent tech literacy, especially one that largely denies traditional forms of media to stay up-to-date.

“This is my hypothesis—Countable fills a niche for them which has largely been unfilled. Facebook’s great, but Facebook is not a news source and should not be relied on to tell you what’s happening in Congress. It’s much better at telling you what your friends were up to last night,” Myers said.

Countable3Users start by indicating their district and legislative interests. The app directs them to trending bills and issues with upcoming votes. Each piece of legislation is succinctly summarized and gives users the option to vote “yea” or “nay,” just like their congressperson.

Countable goes one step further by displaying each bill’s progress, sponsorship, and vote of one’s representative. Don’t like how your congressperson voted? Send them a video message letting them know. Feel strongly about an upcoming bill? Send your representative an email within the app. It also allows users to share their comments publicly within the app and on social media.

Currently, the app is exploring pilot versions for city governments in San Francisco and New York City, with plans to expand in the future.

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