GovTrack Site Updates in 2016

This past year was a busy year for us. We’ve made many improvements throughout the site and thanks to users like you we’ll be able to keep the site going into 2017.

You helped us increase our budget

Thanks to users like you who are supporting us with monthly contributions, we increased our operating budget by about 33%! We’ll be putting that to use by keeping GovTrack Insider going and making small site improvements. Our goal is to raise enough to hire one full time staff member (we currently have no full time staff), but we’re still far away from that.

We’ve been in the news

We were in the news many times this year, including a hilarious mention in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, a Washington Post endorsement of a congressional candidate, election fact-checking articles, and much more.

We’ve been writing plain-language summaries of bills

In the summer of 2015 we began writing plain-language summaries of as many bills as we could get to, plus special articles on topics of interest. Some of our recent posts by our staff writer Jesse Rifkin include:

Congress finally gave us the data we’ve been asking for

After 15 years of asking Congress for better data about the status of legislation, Congress finally devised and implemented a new legislative data publication system earlier this year. You can read more about it at my blog post here. It is a big deal that Congress has moved to the 21st century in how they make legislative status data available to us and other data users.

Vote-related new features on GovTrack

We began showing “key votes” on the pages for Members of Congress (like here for retiring senator Harry Reid). The key votes are selected automatically based on a statistical analysis.

Key Votes

We also added some geographic maps of votes for votes in the House of Representatives, using a cartogram so that each congressional district is represented as an equally sized hexagon (example):

Vote Cartogram

And we link to ProPublica’s missed vote explanations site whenever a Member of Congress has an explanation of why they missed a vote.

Site improvements related to bills

You can now react to bills with emjois, like on Facebook, to show what you think about them. You’ll see this at the top of every bill page:

React with an Emoji

Every bill page now has a link to if.then.fund, our sister site where you can make campaign contributions to Members of Congress that cosponsor bills you support — or to their opponents if you oppose the bill.

Bill Actions

We replaced our prognosis scores with scores computed by PredictGov.com. Their predictions about whether or not a bill will be enacted are more accurate than our previous predictions.

We’re pulling in summaries of bills from Wikipedia when we don’t have a summary.

Site improvements related to Representatives and Senators

We completely re-did our congressional district maps, thanks to the help of volunteer Aaron Dennis and the support of mapping company Mapbox, to make our maps cheaper for us to maintain and update.

Earlier this year we added links to Sunlight Foundation’s EmailCongress tool, but we removed the links after the Sunlight Foundation discontinued the tool.

Other site improvements

We improved the page load times throughout the site.

We simplified the site’s design, which makes it easier for us to keep the site operating correctly, and we think it is more friendly in some places.

See you in 2017!

 

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3 Comments

  1. I don’t recall receiving any of the recent posts by staff writer Jesse Rifkin – and I’m a monthly contributor. How are these posts sent out?

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