On Thursday, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer launched Whip Watch 2.0, a free app that provides the public (and congressional staffers) a real-time mobile view into the Democrats’ whip operation. In addition to all the neat features we wrote about when Whip Watch first launched in June 2015, it allows users to see vote totals, including vote breakdowns by party, on floor votes as it happens, as well as show the time remaining on a vote and how long a vote stays open after it was supposed to close.
The piece on showing live vote totals of vote by party is clever and important. To make this work, the app is screen-scraping text from a House-internal high-definition video feed of the House Floor.
Here’s how I think it works. The House Clerk has information on how each Member votes in real time, but they don’t currently release that to the public (or perhaps anyone). The Clerk gives data to the House Recording Studio–I’m not clear whether it’s the vote breakdown by party or vote information by each Member–and the Recording Studio publishes the vote breakdown by party on official House video feeds. Presumably the Recording Studio gives the party breakdown to C-SPAN; the Democratic Whip’s office scrapes the data from the House’s video feed. The Whip’s office says the data may not be perfect, but it’s a lot better than we could get anywhere else.
It would be great if Rep. Hoyer would publish the data they are scraping (or C-SPAN publish it); it also would be helpful if the Clerk could publish the raw vote data as a feed, which would eliminate any errors in the screen scraping.
The new Whip Watch provides more new info, including amendment descriptions and an icon that tells you whether the House is in session that day. I am particularly interested in how long votes stay open after they are supposed to end. Assuredly, someone clever will put together a dashboard on how often votes go over their allotted time, and by how much they go over.
It’s also worth noting that, according to the press release, the app gets some data from CapitolBells. This is another example of how outside organizations help provide data to people inside Congress that helps them do their jobs.
You can watch their demo video here.