Brent Batten: Petition website a sign of the times

BRENT BATTEN

It’s right there in the First Amendment.

The right to petition government ranks alongside freedom of speech among protections delineated by the U.S. Constitution.

So what Richard Daly of Naples is trying to do isn’t really new, it’s just done in a new way.

Daly and his son, Blair, started a website, PetitionTheGovernment.com where people can weigh in on topics ranging from national health care reform to bank lending policies.

Results are tabulated by the software and are available for viewing — but only after you’ve voted. Daly said that’s so people vote their conscience rather than go along with whatever is trending.

There are more than 100 petitions currently posted on the site, most written Richard, but visitors to the site can propose their own petitions.

The site offers people the chance to submit arguments in favor of or against each proposition. The more information, the better, Daly said. “We would like to have experts weighing in on particular issues,” he said.

Results of use voting are shown as percentages for and against. Daly declines to give out numbers of responses but says the free website has participants in all 50 states. He also said the number of participants is high enough that a single vote won’t cause a significant shift in results.

Showing percentages for an against has an advantage over the traditional petition method of collecting signatures, Daly believes. A petition may have thousands of signatories, but you never know how many people declined to sign the petition or who disagree with its premise.

When pro and con votes are shown, you get an idea of the overall sentiment, he said.

If the standing results on PetitionTheGovernment.com are any indication, that sentiment is overwhelmingly conservative.

Conservative views outnumber liberal ones by large margins in most cases. The petition “Allow drilling for oil in Alaska,” for example, shows 94 percent in favor and 6 percent opposed.

Daly makes no secret of the fact that he’s a conservative himself, a proud supporter of the tea party movement.

In his estimation, the country is heading in the wrong direction, a view that led to the creation of PetitionTheGovernment.com. “I’m afraid for our country. The system is getting overloaded with social programs. It seems like we can’t afford everything anymore,” Daly said.

Blair Daly, 24, a recent computer science graduate of Georgia Tech, developed the software and the website became active at the beginning of 2011.

Petitions are phrased so that an affirmative response supports the conservative approach and a negative one supports a more liberal view.

He admits there may be a conservative bias to the site but says all views are welcome. “We do try to accommodate both sides. The idea is to unite the wisdom of the people behind ideas.”

In a few cases, results of the online voting have been forwarded to politicians but for the most part, it will be up to policymakers to find the website and see results for themselves, Daly said. “As a site, I don’t think we could contact everyone out there,” he said.

The most popular petition so far is one that states, “Defund and repeal Obama-care.” So far, 94 percent support that statement and 6 percent oppose it.

The most hotly contested reads, “Enact laws that require 20 percent down to buy a residential property.” Fifty-one percent support the idea while 49 percent oppose it.

The newest petition, one that should be up in a day or two, seeks to change the U.S. Constitution to make it easier for citizens and states to enact constitutional amendments. Near the top of any such list of amendments, should the idea succeed, would be one calling for a balanced federal budget, Daly said. “Chronic deficit spending should be unconstitutional. It is taxation without representation on future generations,” he said.

Originally from Indiana, Daly owns a small medical device manufacturing firm in Naples, where he has lived since 1993.

PetitionTheGovernment.com accepts no advertising and isn’t intended as a money-making venture, he said.

Instead it is part of a wave of alternative methods using the Internet to promote citizen involvement in government.

The tea party movement has been maligned as extremist in the mainstream media, but Daly believes the results shown on the site are more indicative of public sentiment than many might assume. “The consensus is we’re a conservative nation,” he said.

“What we’d like to do is fix American one idea at a time. It is up to the people to fix America.”

Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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