'We the People' petitions get higher reply threshold

2013-01-17T00:00:00Z 'We the People' petitions get higher reply thresholdLos Angeles Times Los Angeles Times Arizona Daily Star
January 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In the last two weeks, the Obama administration has rebuffed calls for Texas and other states to secede from the Union, deport CNN host Piers Morgan and, somewhat humorously, let down supporters who urged the government to build its own Death Star.

The administration crafted those responses to various petitions posted on its "We the People" website, which allows people to sign petitions that can receive a White House response if enough people sign the online urgings.

But receiving that coveted official response just became harder.

The White House announced this week that it has increased the threshold to receive an official response from 25,000 signatures to 100,000 signatures. The new threshold applies only to petitions created after the change and, as before, petitioners have only 30 days to gather enough names.

"When we first raised the threshold - from 5,000 to 25,000 - we called it 'a good problem to have,' " said Macon Phillips, the White House's director of digital strategy.

Use of the "We the People" site has skyrocketed, Phillips wrote. During the first 10 months of last year, a petition took an average of 18 days to pass the old 25,000-signature threshold, he said. In the last two months of 2012, that time was sliced in half.

Some of the most eye-popping petitions and responses would not have made it to the new threshold.

Take the response to a petition calling the government to begin construction of a Death Star by 2016 to boost job creation and bolster national defense. The petition received 34,435 signatures.

The reasons for rejection - written by Paul Shawcross, chief of the science and space branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget - included the cost:

"The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it."

As well as a moral argument:

"The administration does not support blowing up planets."

The White House does have some wiggle room to what it responds to. The website says the administration may respond to a petition even if it hasn't crossed the threshold and may decline to comment on certain issues "to avoid the appearance of improper influence."

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