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Capitol Bells Toll for Transparency

Perhaps missing the House bells he grew accustomed to while working for Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., Ted Henderson started Capitol Bells, an iPhone app that lets users know when House votes are happening and allows them to “vote” in real time with their representative.

The app initially launched in April for members of Congress and their staffs to keep everyone in tune with which votes were happening and when.

Recently, Henderson updated the app, making it available to everyone with an iPhone.

“There has always been a disconnect between the public and Congress,” said Henderson. “This app is trying to make them a part of the process.”

The user chooses his or her district and the bill that is being considered. The user can then vote and the app shows all the voting scores — yea, nay, present, not voting. There’s also the buzzer to remind you time is almost up.

“Congress is there to serve the people, and this is a way for people to express your opinion without just calling the press office, registering your sentiment and not knowing what the outcome of the vote is anyway,” Henderson said.

With this app, representatives will be able to gauge exactly how well they’re representing their most engaged constituents by looking at differences in the past 20 or 30 votes.

The project is far from complete; Henderson hopes to port it to Android by Sept. 9,when Congress is scheduled to be back in session. Windows and a website widget are other platforms Henderson hopes to offer Capitol Bells on in the near future.

After that, he hopes that with more crowdsourcing, he can add tools such as comparing a user’s and representative’s votes, how often the House member votes and whether the votes are in line with the district’s voters/users.

Henderson also plans ambitious updates to include a feature that will allow users to search legislation and promote bills they want their representative to support.

This could start a new public discourse, hashtagging the bill on Twitter alone would pull people in who might not otherwise be tuned in to C-SPAN.