White House petition website “We the People” now requires 100,000 signatures


Photo illustration: Megan Wolff/Iowa State Daily

The White House’s online petition page “We the People” provides citizens a direct line to the executive branch. The website increased the number of signatures needed to receive an official response after silly petitions gained support.

Thaddeus Mast

The White House’s online petition page, “We the People,” now requires that a petition have more than 100,000 signatures to receive a response from President Barack Obama’s administration after several silly petitions managed to gain enough support to force an official response.

These petitions include the petition for the secession of Texas, as well as several other states. First starting in November after Obama was re-elected, the petitions had enough signatures to force a response from the White House staff.

“In a nation of 300 million people  each with their own set of deeply held beliefs  democracy can be noisy and controversial. And that’s a good thing,” said Jon Carson, Director of the Office of Public Engagement.

A petition last November asked the government to begin constructing a Death Star. It received more than 34,000 signatures in 30 days, again forcing the White House to respond in a light-hearted way.

“The administration does not support blowing up planets,” wrote Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The petition page will most likely stick around, as it allows “the president and the White House to get a sense of what people are thinking and what interests them,” said David Peterson, professor of political science.

“Not surprisingly, because it’s on the Internet, it’s gotten kind of silly at times,” Peterson said.

When the “We the People” page started in September 2011, only 5,000 signatures were required within 30 days to force a response. This was changed to 25,000 less than a month later.

Use of the site has doubled in the last two months of 2012, dropping the average time to reach the 25,000 threshold from 18 to nine days, according to White House reports.

More than 9.2 million people have signed a petition. This may have contributed to the recent change to 100,000 signatures.

While the silly petitions garner attention, they are the minority.

“I don’t think the White House is ignoring the real [petitions] in favor of the silly ones,” Peterson said. “Any politician or political operation worth its salt is going to keep an eye on these things.”

Even though the signature requirement has been raised, Peterson believes the page will continue to be used.

“Part of the reason they’re keeping it is because it’s nonbinding or official. The president doesn’t have to respond to any of these,” Peterson said. “On some level, they are a nice mechanism to allow grassroots folks to actually get their opinion heard.”

Current petitions include legally recognizing the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, which has over 328,000 signatures, as well as recounting the election results and repealing Obamacare, which both have over 50,000 signatures.

If you wish to create or sign a petition, visit: petitions.whitehouse.gov.