Online Petitions Proposed to Offer New Yorkers a New Way to Speak Out

in The New York Times:  “Since introducing a petition site in 2011 and promising to respond to any request that received enough signatures, the White House has been compelled to release its beer recipe, inform Texas that it would not be permitted to secede and weigh the merits of a “Death Star” for national defense.

“The administration,” the response to that petition read, “does not support blowing up planets.”

So it is perhaps with some trepidation that New York City lawmakers consider a local model: an online petition system that would allow residents to ask anything they want of their public officials and, with sufficient support, receive a response.

“Not everyone can go to a public hearing,” said the bill’s sponsor, Councilman James Vacca, Democrat of the Bronx. “This would be a way for people to register their views collectively.”

The proposal to create something resembling a Reddit for the body politic was introduced on Wednesday by Mr. Vacca and referred to the City Council’s Committee on Technology, of which he is chairman. Spokesmen for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council speaker, said their offices were reviewing the bill.

Mr. Vacca’s office said the petition system would be the first of its kind on the municipal level anywhere, a claim that could not be immediately confirmed. Under his bill, the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications would determine the threshold number of electronic signatures that would prompt a response. The department would also be asked to establish the website, creating a system that “allows city agencies or public authorities to post public responses” to the petitions….

Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, a civic group, called the petition proposal “a novel idea” worthy of debate. But he sounded several notes of caution, wondering whether the setup might be subject to manipulation, favoring “a preordained outcome directed by public officials” on a given issue….”