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The White House is making it easier to petition the government while mobile

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The White House is upgrading online petitions for the mobile age, redesigned its We the People site so it's easier to file and sign a petition from smartphones and tablets. The new site is not only optimized for mobile, but is also getting a lick of paint on desktop. The site's creators say visitors tend to ignore most of the extra information — they only sign a petition or create a new one — so the redesign has removed unnecessary features and added more guidance, including templates for petitions.

"just a few, easy steps to view, sign, and then share a petition."

"The result? It takes just a few, easy steps to view, sign, and then share a petition," says a press release from the White House. "That means it’s also way simpler for people — no matter their age, location, or level of technical prowess — to participate in petitioning. That’s a critical step in ensuring that We the People remains universally accessible."

Comparing the old and updated versions of the We the People site.

The site was launched in 2011 as an embodiment of the constitutional right "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Anyone can create a petition, and once it gains 100,000 signatures (previously 25,000), the White House tries to respond.

While this sounds straightforward, critics have knocked We the People as more of an exercise in PR than democracy, saying it gives an outlet for fringe groups while allowing the White House to pick and choose the petitions it responds to. A 2012 campaign for the government to build a death star to stimulate the economy quickly got a playful, tongue-in-cheek response, while more politically-sensitive requests — such as designating the Westboro Baptist Church a hate group — go unanswered for longer. (Although the administration did eventually respond to that one.)

In 2015 the White House promised to breathe new life into the system, clearing a backlog of 20 petitions and creating a new target of issuing responses in 60 days. As before, these are goals rather than enforceable limits, but they at least show a willingness to engage with petitioners. Redesigning the site for mobile devices and guiding newcomers on how to create a campaign demonstrates the same spirit.