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New iPad App Hopes to Modernize Lawmaking on the Hill

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, November 17 2011

For years, BlackBerries have been the signature gadget that every Hill staffer has to have.

PopVox's "MarkUp," app, which debuted in Apple's iTunes store Thursday, might be one more reason for the iPad to stake a claim to the title of next must-have device.

The $9.99 app enables Hill staffers and anyone else working on legislation to work with it in virtual form on the iPad, and to jump around within the text to get to key sections. It also enables keyword searches and annotations, and the marked up copy can be e-mailed directly from the application.

“We decided to build the app soon after the House rules change in January 2011, allowing iPads on the House Floor,” PopVox founder Marci Harris said in a release about the app on Thursday. “We were already building a site to help Congress better hear from constituents and find out what groups were saying about legislation. MarkUp delivers that information not only to the last mile, but the last inch -- right into the hands of Members of Congress, who really want to know what their constituents have to say about pending bills.”

For more details and background about the thinking behind and creation of PopVox, check out Nancy Scola’s November 2010 profile of the company, and of Harris, its founder.

Harris, a former Hill staffer herself — she worked for Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) — says that she can see PopVox’s new app being used in many different contexts by different kinds of staffers on the Hill, all of whom have different roles in the legislative process.

To that end, the company is going to spend December 9 on Capitol Hill demonstrating the app to whoever is interested.

“Our December 9 day on the Hill is going to be an opportunity to structure training for the different kinds of staff, because the communications staff who want to know what people are saying about their bosses’ priorities have a completely different way of using this tool, as opposed to a policy staffer, and who maybe wants to know what people are saying in other districts, so that they can go to Congresswoman X, and say ‘Your district seems to be very interested in this issue, let’s co-sponsor.’”