White House raises bar for flooded website

Petition minimum now at 100,000

The constitutional right to petition the government for a redress of citizens’ grievances, from deporting CNN anchor Piers Morgan to building a U.S. Death Star to seceding from the Union, just got a little more burdensome.

The White House announced in a blog post that, as of this week, it has quadrupled the threshold of required signatures from 25,000 to 100,000 in order to get the administration to respond officially to an online petition. The signatures must be amassed within 30 days of filing a petition.

Macon Phillips, the White House director of digital strategy, said the popularity of the website “We the People” has “exceeded our wildest expectations.” The White House originally started the project with a threshold of just 5,000 signatures needed to generate a response.

“We’re making another adjustment to ensure we’re able to continue to give the most popular ideas the time they deserve,” Mr. Phillips said.

In the last two months of 2012, use of We the People more than doubled, he said. About 2.4 million new users joined the system, 73,000 petitions were created and 4.9 million signatures were registered.

The site first got widespread notice shortly after Mr. Obama’s re-election, when dozens of petitions were immediately filed from residents of states around the country seeking to secede. Mr. Phillips said more than 60 percent of the petitions to cross the threshold in all of 2012 did so in November and December.

The director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Jon Carson, responded to a petition for Texas’ secession, which received more than 125,000 signatures, noting that an 1869 Supreme Court ruling found states don’t have the right to secede.

“Our founding fathers established the Constitution of the United States ‘in order to form a more perfect union’ through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government,” Mr. Carson wrote. “They enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it.”

Mr. Carson also was answering secession petitions filed by residents of Louisiana, Alabama and five other states.

Paul Shawcross, the chief of science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, was recruited to post the official White House response last week to a petition to construct a “Star Wars” style U.S. Death Star by 2016 — a petition that garnered 34,000 online signatures.

“Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?” Mr. Shawcross asked in his response.

Petitions can be started online at petitions.whitehouse.gov.

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