This is the second article about top political apps for use on smartphones and tablets. You can hear more about these apps on Top 3 Podcast via the Wild Inspire Podcast Network. You can listen to the podcast after the jump.
In the last Top 3 Podcast, we talked about apps for political news. In the penultimate scene of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Jimmy Stewart’s Senator Smith passes out after seeing bins of telegrams and letters from his constituents calling for his removal from office. In the age of social media, letters and telegrams may seem an antiquated way to reach out to your senators and representatives in Congress. Yet, phone calls and traditional letters are still a large part of how the public communicates with Congress.
And with more and more elected officials are embracing social media, it is hard to be believe that Congress didn’t really embrace e-mail until the mid to late 1990s. The Library of Congress’s THOMAS internet legislative database is just 17 years old. Then in 2001, the anthrax attacks on the U.S. mail system forever altered how traditional mail is handled in congressional offices, causing e-mail use to skyrocket.
Spiral bound paper directories like this are still quite popular in political Washington. They are informative and easy to use, and recently started to provide social media information. But the directories are updated just once a year, so would quickly become outdated should a senator or congressman resign or die in office. Mobile directories have started to spring up to fill that gap, both for iOS and Android devices. The best of these directories provide phone numbers and addresses along with links to voting records, detailed bios, social media services, staff contacts, and more. If you’re unsure of who represents you in Congress, the apps can use your phone’s GPS to find your congressman. There are several directory apps for both iOS and Android, but these are the best.
- The only directory on the iPad or iPhone you’ll ever need is one of the Congress in Your Pocket appsdeveloped by Cohen Research Group. Cohen Research Group has been provinding electronic congressional directories for years, starting with Palm Politics on the Palm Pilot apps are not free, but they are worth every penny. The apps have been featured on the App Store five times.
- Congress, $0.99, iPhone, is a barebones app, providing key information for members of Congress: photos, bios, contact information, and social media links. Most people will find this app more than sufficient
- Congress+, $4.99, (iPad/iPhone) is for a person with more than passing interest in politics. This universal app adds committee assignments, top congressional staff members for each office, links to legislation, campaign finance, and other web sources. You can also add notes to individual records.
- CongressPro, $29.99 (iPad/iPhone). This app is the granddaddy of them all. While the first two apps cover most everything anyone would ever need, this app is for people in government affairs or policy position who need more in depth look at Congress, but for what it provides it is worth the price. It includes everything from Congress+, with an expanded committee section. Business professionals can also add notes in the app to track appointments or specific items discussed in meetings and share them within their organization. Most importantly, it provides free automatic updates. Every time there is a change in the database, those changes are downloaded to your device so you always have the most current information. The app currently provides information on the 112th Congress. When a new congress is seated after the elections this fall, the database can be updated with an in app purchase.
Cohen Research Group has also expanded it’s apps to more than a dozen state legislatures, making the premier provider of legislative directories in the App Store.
- MyCongress, free, iPad, and Congress 411, free, iPhone. At 99 cents, the Congress app is difficult to pass up. But free is even better. For iPad users, MyCongress is one of the best free directories available, making good use of the iPad’s larger screen. MyCongress provides current news, YouTube videos, and tweets from senators and representatives. It does not have sponsored legislation or vote information, however. Congress 411 is similar to Congress, but adds votings records for senators and representatives – one thing Congress is missing.
- Congress, Free, Android Market. If you own an Android device, this app developed by the Sunlight Foundation is the only directory app you’ll ever need. The Sunlight Foundations an open government and transparency advocacy organization. The app provides all of the contact information you’d expect, and adds real-time updates of legislative activity when Congress is in session. The app’s design is also on par with those available for iOS, and since it is built on the govtrack.us database, the legislative information it provides is updated frequently.
You may find other free or paid apps for both iOS and Android, but they are poorly designed and lack significant developer support. If you’re a casual user or a business professional, any of these apps deserve a prominent place on your mobile devices.
Bonus for Jimmy Stewart fans.