Congressional voting records made useful (with RSS too!) Jason 06 Dec 2005

15 comments Latest by Todd Jones

The Washington Post just launched a what I’d call a prism for congressional voting records. Shine a bill through the site and out come the colors. You can find out the Yes/No/No-vote records by party, state, by legislator, by region (south vs midwest vs northeast), by baby-boomer status, by gender, and… wait for it… astrological sign! Take H R 2419, for example. The site lets you browse every vote in the U.S. Congress since 1991.

Even more useful is the ability to subscribe to a legislator via RSS. Here’s Barak Obama’s RSS feed. When he casts a vote you’ll see it in your feed. Subscribe to yours today. Pretty damn useful I think.

Part of the brains behind this project is Chicagoan Adrian Holovaty. He’s also behind the Django web-app framework for Python and Chicagocrime.org. David and Adrian had a little debate last Saturday at DePaul University here in Chicago. I hear 130 people showed up for the show.

Well done Adrian and the Washington Post.

15 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Silus Grok 06 Dec 05

I’ve been using the RSS feeds over at Plogress for this for some time… but what I really wish someone would do is help us see the votes-behind-the-votes… comparing votes-in-committee to votes-on-the-floor.

Benjy 06 Dec 05

We can view votes by astrological sign? What’s next, favorite color?

What actually would be useful/interesting given the culture wars arising, would be to see the vote breakdown by religious affiliation.

Garrick Van Buren 06 Dec 05

Throwing your congressman’s feeds into an aggregator like magpie gets you fun stuff like: MNRep - How Minnesota’s Congressional Representatives Voted.

Alex Bosworth 06 Dec 05

lamest RSS feed ever

title is “Yes” or “no” body is “Question: On Passage of the Bill. Barack Obama voted No”

Cameron Fleming 06 Dec 05

It would be even more useful… okay, I don’t know about useful, but interesting at least… if the tables included descriptive statistics. At a minimum, including the percentages in each cell would be nice (What percentage of males in the House voted no? What percentage of Scorpios voted yes? etc.) It would also be nice to have statistics for each member — how many times did they vote against their party, for example? They Work For You is a very similar idea for the British Parliament, but it’s better because it provides some statistical context to the raw data (picking an MP at random, take a look at the page for Richard Bacon.)

Cameron Fleming 06 Dec 05

Just a follow-up: They Work For You has individual RSS feeds for each MP too, including every time the MP speaks in the House of Commons.

Kyle 06 Dec 05

What I think is interesting, above and beyond the RSS feeds, is the revealing of Projects subdomain on the WashPost url. It’s the first I’ve heard of it, and I wonder if it, combined with recent job adverts (a few months ago, I believe) for people with XHTML/CSS and J2EE and/or RoR experience and understanding means that the Post is going to start aggressively using the projects subdomain to start a beta type section on their site.

Sounds cool, if it’s the case. Oh, and I imagine we can expect mashups to occur fairly soon with this tool.

p.s. Great to have the comments back on the site!

Wes Garrison 06 Dec 05

Yeah, what’s the point of seeing what they voted if they don’t include any meaningful information about the issue? Nice, but no thanks.

Adrian Holovaty 06 Dec 05

Kyle: No Java or Ruby on projects.washingtonpost.com. It’s all Django-powered, baby.

Thanks for the various comments on the RSS feeds! I’ll get to fixing those ASAP.

Florisla 07 Dec 05

Web-enabled democracy is nice. Check out www.theyworkforyou.com , they’ve been making publicly funded work public for a long time in the UK.

Adrian Holovaty 07 Dec 05

To the folks who complained about the RSS feeds lacking enough information: I’ve fixed that. Thanks again for the feedback.

Bob Aman 07 Dec 05

Neat. I wrote something almost exactly like this for a project about, oh… almost three years ago, but as a Java Swing app (and obviously, without the RSS feeds, which is probably what makes this thing interesting). Their implementation is a lot more polished than mine, but with not quite as much information. I had full text of bills, every single attribute of your representatives you might possibly want to know (religion, educational history, military service, previous civic service, marital status, age, affiliations, etc. — you could group information by most of those fields) and we went all the way back to the first congress in what, 1789? Full text of bills went back to 1996 I think. Had graphical visualizations for votes superimposed on the map of the United States. Senate votes were pretty boring though since the state would always show up in red, green, or white, instead of some gradient in between. Our user interface sucked.

Course, we were shamelessly copying other people’s data, mostly from the lexus nexus, so we trashed the whole thing when we had gotten our grade.

Learned a bunch of things from the project. Namely, most bills are utterly inane. “Motion to waive bill on requiring airline toilet seats,” etc. Most bills are also utterly incomprehensible. Full text of some random bill: “Section 1a. Ammend section 4, paragraph 3, of previous bill to read ‘must not’ instead of ‘should not.’” And there’s also a metric crapton of bills for naming governmental buildings after dead people.

In any case, I really like what Adrian’s doing with this. Can’t wait to see how it turns out. And yeah, I’m totally subscribed to Obama’s feed, even though I’m from New York. I like him a lot. He talks a really good talk. Wish he wasn’t quite so consistent about voting down the party line.

swithin 17 Dec 05

Most RSS feeds I’m familiar with end in SomeFileName.xml. The feeds from the Washington Post are files that both IE and Firefox ask me to save to disk. This doesn’t work too well in the Trillian Pro RSS plug-in I have. Know of any tricks other than using another RSS utility?

Todd Jones 10 Mar 06

This site sucks big weiner

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