Unless you’ve been hiding in a cabin with no Facebook or email, you’re intimately familiar with online petitions. These stirring pleas come from well-meaning friends and family and often represent important causes. They’re an easy route to activism: one click and you “sign” your name, signalling that you agree with the cause. But there’s always a followup step: would you be willing to contact your legislator and tell them how you feel?
Personally, if it’s a cause I agree with, I’m totally willing. After all, the influence of thousands of likes or online signatures remains relatively small, whereas direct contact from a constituent does have some political cache. But here’s the problem: who the heck is my legislator, and what’s their email?
That could be a question no one has to ask in the future—at least not in the United Kingdom. Google just rolled out an extremely useful new knowledge box in UK-based search results for terms like “UK ballot” or “UK election candidates.” It lets you enter your postcode and instantly find out who’s on the ballot.
As you might guess from those keywords, the current intention of this knowledge graph box is strictly about upcoming elections. (The box also reminds you that election day is May 7.) It’s apparently meant to help voters find out who’s on the ballot in their area. Entering a postcode will show you all of your parliamentary candidates along with their party affiliation.
At present, the box doesn’t give you their contact information—although once you know their name it becomes much easier to find it. I would love to see this functionality expanded so that relevant search terms tell you your current representative and offer a link to their site. (I’d also love to see it cross the ocean to the US.)
At present, if you need to find out who represents you your options are limited. Depending on your state, the government website may be hard to navigate. Other websites may offer the same information in an easier format, but it’s hard to be sure how up to date they are. Google is obviously scraping this information anyway, and I’m a little surprised a “find your Congressperson” knowledge graph doesn’t already exist.
(To make sure, I just tried a few search terms including “Georgia senators,” “who is my senator,” and “who is my representative”—no dice. The Georgia senator search does bring up a knowledge box with info about the state and its government, but no option to look up who represents your area.)
Still, the new functionality in Europe will probably be replicated for future US elections and from there it’s not much of a jump to add a current representative lookup.
Which means we’ll all have one less excuse to ignore those petitions.