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U.S. Congress And Email 163

Carnage4Life writes "While browsing ZDNet I found this article that describes how U.S. members of congress receive so much email (about 55,000 a month) that they now routinely ignore email messages especially since a lot of them do not even come from their constituents. " Here's a similiar story where emails to our congressional representatives are referred to as spam. Although I'm sure mass-mailing reps is common, I wouldn't be at all surprised if 50,000 people emailed during the Napster hearings. But we've said it before, Reps don't understand bits and bytes. If you don't send them dead trees, they don't think you vote.
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U.S. Congress and Email

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Do you think they read that crap either? Yeah right. This is part of the reason special interest and lobbyists are so powerful. The people making laws see them as reperesentative of their constituency because they are so out of touch with *their* constituency.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Or one approach that's guaranteed to work with your Senator is to write the following return address on your letter:

    100 LIPPO WAY

    And slip in a few hundred thousand.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you want to get a message to your congressman donate 20 grand to their re-election campaign.
  • by Anonymous Coward 0319a.html

    "The Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Office will soon be rolling out EchoMail, which will put all messages sent to Senators' public e-mail addresses on a separate server, a move that will help prevent large batches of outside mail from interfering with internal messages sent to staff.

    The report finds promise in the EchoMail system, though it cautions that, like all new technology, it will take time for Senate offices to work out the kinks in the program."
  • what the heck does Vignette offer that you can't get with less money, your own programmers, and free software?


  • Lots of people still regard email as a novelty. Only half the people I know check it daily. Only a couple dozen check it hourly. So I'm not surprized that Congress ignores email. Heck, they might as well not have it. Here's yet another example of a technology that really hasn't panned out, at least not all the way.
  • by vallee ( 2192 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:26AM (#354014)

    Whilst it's true that email is in some senses the "killer app" of the internet, it's also one of the most over-hyped, productivity destroying pieces of crap ever developed :) On the one hand it allows for free, nearly instantaneous conversation and information sharing with people anywhere in the world, but at the same time it allows those people to send each other "humourous" clips of cats doing martial arts and Americans going "Wazzzup!" at each other, clogging networks and stopping people from working.

    The trouble is that because email just seems so convenient companies love it. If they don't have email, then they just aren't part of the modern business world in their view. But this isn't true. Despite the internet hype, everything necessary can be done over the phone or even by post, without ever touching a computer! And in many cases, the computer merely serves to waste time whilst appearing to be more efficient.

    It's the same here. Despite email promising to let people get in touch with their congress people, in reality all it does is let so much stuff get there that it can't all be checked properly. It's just a waste of time, and people are far more likely to get their message across if they sit down with pen and a paper and write out a letter stating the issues at hand.

    And besides, the quick and easy nature of email means it's a very sloppy method of communication. It lends itself to knee-jerk, flaming reponses and mails full of factual and grammatical errors, which all serve to make the user look bad. At least with a letter you have to take your time and consider what you're writing.

    Email is great for letting the office know about the next progress meeting. But it's not really very good for getting someone's attention and making a point.

  • ;)

    Same focus, no need for another domain =)
  • If you really want to be sure they get the message, go knock on their door.
    Hell yeah! Then when you catch their wife with her hair all tussled in that just fscked look with her "friend" calling down the stairs, you'll have more than just a letter... you'll have leverage!
  • And even if the *Congressperson* signs, and you know they did, ain't no certainty that they read it.

    Yeah, but if *I* was in office, and somebody took the time to spend three bucks to send me a certified letter, I think I'd take the time to read it . . . that sort of person is probably pretty serious. Of course, I get the impression that many of our reps don't care that much . . .

    Of course, best case scenario would be all correspondence got read, but I'd bet that at least ten percent of the correspondence these folks get (whether on paper or electronic) is hate mail . . .

  • I don't want the people who work for me sorting through 50,000 emails instead of patiently researching issues and representing my interests. I want statesmen, not babysitters to handhold whiny emailers, wingnuts and black-helicopter-watchers.

    Frankly, I'm of the opinion that we have too much democracy. That the question of the teaching about the origins of life, the nature of mental disease, and so forth is determined by popular sentiment rather than objective fact is a disaster. Look around - how much ear-time do you really want your representatives giving to the yahoos that populate this mudball?

  • I read about a dozen emails a day, and delete about 2 dozen spam messages a day without even reading them, but I haven't read a postal mail since Christmas brought me many "family updates" from around the country.

    You want to get a hold of me, send email. I don't answer the phone or read postal mail (unless the return address includes a family member).


    [ before you ask, no I don't do the bills. ]
  • Send a FAX instead. I've heard aout Congressional staffer ignoring emails for some time. Honest-to-God letters and FAXes are more difficult to ignore. Imagine how difficult it'd be to mount a campaign where everyone send a letter via registered mail. ``Senator Smith, we've been signing for registered letters all day long for the last two weeks. I think your constituents have a strong opinion about that Bill you're sponsoring.'' Too bad sending a registered letter costs a couple of bucks. If only there were a way to send a registered FAX.


  • by Col. Klink (retired) ( 11632 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @08:02AM (#354021)
    If you *really* want your congressman to get your message, save the money on the postage and instead give several thousands of dollars to his campaign manager. Only then can you be sure that he'll hear you.
  • There are lots of customer-relation-manager software
    that will make a preliminary attempt to sort
    mail based on content. Smart companies use this
    to pull out the most important problems first.
    Do Congressmen use this?

  • It is simply a fact of life that handwritten letters on paper get taken much more seriously.

    Yup. From what I hear, the usual rule of thumb is that the more effort a person makes to contact their congresscritter, the more seriously they're taken. (Up to a point, of course.) Email is so easy, it's practically pointless.

  • by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:45AM (#354024) Journal
    But we've said it before, Reps don't understand bits and bytes. If you don't send them dead trees, they don't think you vote.

    Oh, stop being such a crybaby, Taco. If you received over 1000 emails a day, you wouldn't read them all either. If you were in charge of representing several hundred thousand people to Congress, and kept getting e-mail from the millions you weren't representing, it would probably sour you on the whole thing as well.

    Don't forget, these are people whose lives don't revolve around sitting in front of a computer all day. E-mail makes sending a thought to another user nearly effortless, the product of mere seconds of work. In such a position, I'd probably treat the average e-mail with the same amount of gravity I usually reserve for Post-it notes. Less, since the majority of post-its I get are from people I actually know, about things which are actually important.

    "You owe me a case of beer. Sucka'."

  • go away gallagher.
  • The lesson of Congress ignoring email? (as if we ourselves don't have to ignore it sometimes).

    Don't rely on one method of reaching your congressperson:
    • Send email.
    • Send regular mail.
    • Send by any other method you can.

    Make all of these intelligent and to the point.

    And most importantly, when you do these 3 things at once? Note that you send the message all three ways. If you've sent an intelligent message, it may just make them appreciate the people they represent more.

  • that emails get lower priority than phone calls, faxes, or snail mail. I don't like it

    I like it-- someone who writes a letter cares enough to take the few extra minutes to print the thing out and mail it. If people took the time to spell and sanity-check their letters, and to think about what they said rather than flinging them out into the ether, Congressmen would take them seriously, too. As is, most of the e-mails they get are probably form-letters and flames, with a few intellegent comments nestled somewhere in a deep inbox.


  • Yes, the Virginia reps are pretty good at that. I have gotten a response to every letter or e-mail that I have sent to Allen and Warner. Just sent a letter to Warner this morning about the DMCA.
  • Reason I ask, is this: I recently bought, at auction, some recently-disposed-of IT gear from the US Gov. Several have "Property of the United States Senate" stickers. By far, the "best" box is a Pentium-133 with 64MB and a 2 GB drive, on a proprietary bus (it's a Compaq box). And I was also recently in my Senator's office. The basic boxen there were Pentium Pro's, in the 166-200 range. And, of course, they all run Windoze (in this case, Win 95 OSR2: the secretary had a minor problem, and I fixed it for her.)

    While this may not be the general case, I ask the question: do they have the hardware for it ? Remember, the Congresscritters and Senators may have nice, new, shiny boxen, but the mail gets answered by admin types with old, slow boxen. And these are mostly political types, not techies. Can they handle it ??

  • You either need to work seriously to elect someone new or re-examine what the hell you wrote. I've almost never heard of a snail-mail letter from a constituent not getting at least a form letter reply.

  • If con is opposite to pro, whats the opposite of congress?


  • I'm in favor of the proposal that on even-numbered years Congress can pass or repeal laws. On odd-numbered years Congress can only repeal laws (with some difficult-to-achieve exception for emergencies). There are too many laws and they're too complex.

    While we're amending the Constitution, do the same for the Executive branch. There are too many regulations also.

  • ya wann bet 50 bucks that someone else in the office is able to sign for these????
  • I believe that email is less effective as a form of protest and public speech because it's too easy to clean out an entire inbox of thousands of messages.

    Compare getting three bags of US mail with 10,000 email messages... how easy is it to clean up the emails vs. regular mail.

    Also, there's the idea that regular mail is more 'official' and that you'd be breaking a whole lot of laws to tamper with it, whereas I can set up a yahoo email alias, and never read any of the mail/spam I get and nobody cares.

    Unfortunately, I believe that email is a poor political medium because it's too easy to get rid of.
  • So with the email just hit the print button spend the $0.35 or so and send both :)
  • >If only there were a way to send a registered FAX.

    Well, you get a transmission report at the end of the fax anyway, and if you had the correct number, there's really no difference from a registered letter... there's no way to prove anyone read the fax, but there is also no way to prove or force them to open and read the registered mail, either...
  • And of course, your representative will never be there because he or she almost certainly has a "second" residence in washington where he or she lives 9 months out of the year. And of course, the secret service probably won't like knocking on his or her door. ;-)
  • and even though I know the process inside a congressperson's office, I was still surprised that in every case, I've received no response whatsoever. I wrote letters, printed them out, signed them, made sure to send them to the offices of my representative and both senators, and got nothing in return. No "thank you for your concern but you're a flaming idiot" even.

    Admittedly, whenever you send anything to a congressperson's office, that person will VERY seldom actually read it. They have interns to evaluate those which can get form responses, those which can be completely ignored (apparently I've always been in that category), and those which should go to the attention of the congressperson himself. Only things which require action go to the congressperson, everything else just gets tallied.

    But I'm still surprised at the total lack of response. Maybe the overall trend is to just ignore everybody these days and wait until the poll numbers are in. If so, then the issue of ignoring email is part of a larger trend: politicians don't care, or don't have time to respond, to all the demands placed on them by their constituents.

    Imagine you're a standard representative. Imagine you have what, 10 staffers? (I don't know the exact number). Imagine you get just 1000 emails and letters and faxes a day. How are you going to actually get through all those. If you expect that each piece of correspondence requires some kind of response, and you have 10 staffers, each one has to get through 100 pieces of correspondance a day. On a 10-hour day, that's 6 minutes per piece of correspondance. You're never going to get any ability to deal with ALL that on an ongoing basis, so you have to figure out very quickly what to drop and ignore.

  • At my former job, e-mail was the usual cause of my headaches as the network admin. E-mail brought us the Melissa and Love Letter virrii. The USER partition was filled to capacity when one of our sales people decided to e-mail over 7 gigs of pictures to clients... And our e-mail relay server was using a 56K frame relay line... Are sales and marketing people the dumbest, whiniest group of people in every company? Ugh. I'm glad I quit.

    Anyway, I agree. E-mail is incredibly overrated. What the hell is wrong with a telephone? When people that are in local calling distance send me e-mail, I reply with my phone number. I consider e-mail inferior for some types of communication.
  • I have to object to the comments added to this submission. The second article referenced does not refer to email from contituents as spam. It says "It's all the spam that clogs things up." I take this to mean that it's hard to find mail from constituents and other interested parties through the blizzard of spam, and they supposedly have a new system that will make it easier to trash mail that looks like spam. So don't send e-mail to your congressman in all-caps.

    Besides, if you think only messages from consituents count, think again; lobbyists and other goons bearing cash get more attention from congressmen than their consituents do.

    What is amazing is that the chain letters, stock scams, etc are getting sent straight to congressmen, who are less interested in forwarding the messages to law enforcement than in simply deleting it.

    Boss of nothin. Big deal.
    Son, go get daddy's hard plastic eyes.

  • That's what most corpies do. Write a fat check and congress critter will not only read your letter but will lick your ass while he is doing it.
  • I can't believe that senators have to waste their time dealing with a fucking hat issue by the army. can't the God-damned army deal with their stupid hats without getting the congress involved? It's a hat people!.

    when I was in the military I was shocked to see how much the military wastes on training their people on the proper way to wear a hat and all the damned rules about when, how, which hat to wear. The funny thing is that none of the damned hats (except the BDUs) served a purpose at all. they did not keep the sun out of your eyes, did not keep your head warm, did not keep it from getting wet. Stupid ,stupid, stupid. I am so glad I am no longer in the military.
  • by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:40AM (#354043) Journal
    >If they don't have email, then they just aren't part of the modern business world in their view. But this isn't true. Despite the internet hype, everything necessary can be done over the phone or even by post, without ever touching a computer!

    But in some ways doing things by phone or post is even more inefficent than using email. Phone people up and they start chattering on and on about non-work related stuff. Do you know how much it costs in paper to send everyone the company newsletter?

    I could do everything a business needs using smokesignals and carrier-pigeons, but would that be the best solution?

    >the quick and easy nature of email means it's a very sloppy method of communication

    I've heard this before and the same thing can be said for verbal communication. How do you think slang developed before email? Its not email which is "evil", its the way its used.
  • by metacosm ( 45796 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:22AM (#354044)
    If you want to get a message to your congressman - send a certified letter. The only person who can sign for it is the congressman, and you can even ask for proof of receipt.
    It costs $1.40 to send a letter by certified mail and an additional $1.25 for the sender to get a receipt back confirming delivery.
    If you really care about a topic - show it by spending the $2.65 to make sure your message gets to your congressman.
  • After looking at my first response, I realized it might have come off as 'there's no way in hell they really went out of their way to answer your letter'.

    Chances are, they took more time on yours than they did on others, as there are probably quite a few that they just outright trash without even blinking.

    Here's a few hints for you who might want to mail your representatives --

    • Mail a seperate copy to each one.
      I know, there's Bcc, but people will recognize that you're mailing it to more than one person. [And you sure as hell don't put it all in To: or CC:, as then they'll know they were 345 of the 347 of people you mailed.]
    • Tell them why they should care.
      In the case of congressmen, tell 'em where you live, so they realize that you're in their district, so you're one of the people who affects their re-election.
    • Don't use form letters.
      Sure, someone's got some nice 'copy and paste this to send to whomever' form letter. If if's the first one they get, they might be impressed. When you're the 200th one they've seen, they couldn't really give a shit. [And it's not like they have to read it. They can recognize it from the layout of the page]
    • Be polite.
      You'd be amazed how many people bitch and bitch, and you just want to choke the damned ignorant ungrateful bastards. When you get the one nice message after 30 some rude ones, you're a little more likely to take some time on this one, so you don't have to go back through the rest of the rude ones.
    • Be constructive.
      If you're going to complain about something, give suggestions for improvements. There's no point in telling someone that something sucks, unless you can suggest an alternative for them to do instead.
  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:51AM (#354046) Homepage
    From my days of dealing with a hundred or more email a day, you quickly learn just how important form letters are so that you can get back to your other work. When done right, however, it doesn't look like a form letter.

    The first few times you receive something on a new topic, you actually respond to the person. Buy the third or fourth time, you're copying the bulk of the response from one of the earlier messages.

    Once you've got a reply that you really like, you save it somewhere, so you can grab it when needed. The next time someone asks the question, you insert the text file. You trim out any bits that aren't relevant to their question [one of the sure signs of form letters], and you might tack in a sentance or two in there to make sure you highlight the answer to their question. [Eg, 'To explain why we're doing X, you really have to understand the whole process behind Y']

    Once you're replied, you save their message to the appropriate bin, so that when you have to report to your boss later, you can state that 27 people complained today about A, 14 about B, and you received 42 copies of 'The Internet Spy'.
  • Glad it works for you. I have written to my congressman MANY times. Not once have I received any sort of reply. This includes writing via dead trees, and email. The only thing I have ever received back is an auto-reply via email. All of my letters have been extremely civil, have stated my point, have mentioned that I am one of thier consitituents. Seems to me that there should be some much simpler way to let your congressdope know your view.
    .e. []
  • by Phizzy ( 56929 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:35AM (#354048)
    I think this is a little bit of an exagerration. I sent two emails to my representatives, one to my Congressman and one to a Senator from my state (NC), regarding the appointment of our favorite Attorney General and another regarding privacy concerns with a bill related to the Methamphetamine Proliferation Act, respectively, and received packets in the mail (snail) roughly a week later from both. The congressman sent me an explanation of why he voted against the AG, but was not in the majority (sadly), and the Senator sent me a letter explaning that the rider I was objecting to had been removed, as well as a report on the Meth bill, and another report on Privacy bills.

    This largely depends on the representative, their staff, the issue you are referring to and your tone in the letter. I don't think it's appropriate to make broad generalizations like this with little evidence.. the reps are doing the best they can.

  • .... but Dead Presidents.

    While it may be true that your average Congressperson is for sale, there are good rental options.
  • I e-mailed congressman Tom Davis (Republican, Virginia), last year, about allowing Hybrid Vehicles to ride in HOV lanes. I recieved an e-mail back from one of his assistants. LaterI recieved a couple of letters from him; the last being about how Hybrid Vehicles will be allowed to use the alternative fuel plate, to ride in HOV.

    I am not a Republican, nor are there a huge population of people in Virginia that own Hybrid Vehicles. The system seems to work to me!

    Though I live in the tech hub in the DC Metro area, so that may be why Tom Davis finds e-mail to be a necessary form of communication. Perhaps in states with lower tech income, the Congressmen ignore the fact that we are in the 21st century. If I lived in one of those states, I'd be packing my bags.

    you are not what you own
  • Your signature is a terrible representation of Schrodenger's Cat.

    Here's a better explaination for those who would like it, from at/what.html

    In response to how ridiculous Bohr's belief that atoms should obey quantum mechanics:
    One can even set up quite ridiculous cases. A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following diabolical device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of one hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The first atomic decay would have poisoned it. The Psi function for the entire system would express this by having in it the living and the dead cat (pardon the expression) mixed or smeared out in equal parts. It is typical of these cases that an indeterminacy originally restricted to the atomic domain becomes transformed into macroscopic indeterminacy, which can then be resolved by direct observation. That prevents us from so naively accepting as valid a "blurred model" for representing reality. In itself it would not embody anything unclear or contradictory. There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks. -- Erwin Schrödinger
    No score +1 due to being terribly off-topic..

  • As an intern for a summer session. Yes, they do read the email they recieve. Yes, it is a menial task relegated to interns and junior staff. The biggest problem Congressmen have with email is that the senders usually do not have their physical address included with the email. Because most staffs are instructed to forward email for other districts to their respective Congressmen, very few emails are actually tallied with the other correspondence unless it is clear it is from their district. So, save an interns time and get your email counted by including your postal address with your email. Yes it sounds old fashioned but it's how it works.
    At least your attitude on an issue will be tallied with other emails, phones, faxes, and postal mails received by the Congressmen for the month.

  • Good observation, and No, they don't have the equipment.

    Congressional budgets for compters/staff/phones are extremely limited given the number of constituents they are there to serve. The budget process is perpetually 3-4 years behind the technology curve. The support staff that works for Congress as a whole is civil service, and loathe to adopt anything new. Many offices are still using Dos based applications, and cc:Mail is still the e-mail client for Senate offices. The average salary for a Senate sysadmin is $40,000 a year - to manage a system for 40-70 people, including 3-4 remote offices, massive amounts of e-mail, and generally clueless users. Oh, and they are usually the entire IT staff.

    There are a number of staffers and members who would like to see this changed, but due to the self-fulfilling complaints that "Congress sucks" it is political suicide to attempt to increase the budgets to something even close to what is needed.
  • Our new Democratic senator, Ben Nelson, has chosen to not use email as a means of hearing from his constituents.

    After trying calls for 45 minutes, I got through to his assistants who told me that he had no plans on adding one since it was "too much of a hassel." Apparently making your constituents have to dial for 45 minutes (for what sounded like a total of two staffers answering phones - nifty bottleneck) isn't a hassel...

    What's next? Limiting calls to one phone line, one hour a day? Rejecting U.S. mail letters? I think our freshman senator has found a new way to say "Gosh, I never heard anything from my constituents to the contrary of my opinion, so that's why I voted that way."

    So much for a "representative" republic...

  • Yeah, go knock on your Congressman's door and get blown away by his security team! The only way to BE ABSOLUTELY SURE your Congressman reads your letter is to attach $50,000 in "return postage"....
  • I could do everything a business needs using smokesignals and carrier-pigeons, but would that be the best solution?

    Heh. My former roommate once threatened the phone company that he was going to cancel our service and start using Pony Express if they didn't stop telespamming us during dinner. It worked, too.

  • You wanna get results, send a political action comittee. Check with your company; they may have one.
  • Reps don't understand bits and bytes. If you don't send them dead trees, they don't think you vote.

    I think they understand perfectly well. It takes significantly more effort to write a paper letter than an e-mail. If you were trying to figure out what issues your constituents really cared about, which would you pay more attention to?

  • allows those people to send each other "humourous" clips of cats doing martial arts and Americans going "Wazzzup!" at each other, clogging networks and stopping people from working.

    The phone allows just as much time-wasting, doesn't it? With the phone, Americans can actually go "Wazzzup!" at each other, though cats doing martial arts probably loses a lot in the translation.

  • Amen. I wish that Taco would editorialize less about politcal issues. It leads to misleading mistakes like this. It turns into unwarranted governement-bashing.
  • CmdrTaco is very misleading in his editorial comment. The article does not state that the reps. regard our email as spam. They DO understand bits and bytes, as is evidenced by the comments made by our reps. What IS being said is that the reps. regard abusive SPAM as being a major hurdle in reading all the email they recieve. Read. It prevents perpetuating non-truths.
  • Fisrt off, don't be so quick to assume that our representatives call our email spam. The article states that abusive SPAM prevents them from getting to all our email. It does NOT say that they regard our email as spam.
    I'm sure that our government has a better grasp on technology than CmdrTaco would like you to beleive. How do you confirm the origin of snail-mail? Similarly reliable methods could be applied to email.
  • they've seen some of the Slashdot threads that relate to the presidential election.

  • "And in many cases, the computer merely serves to waste time whilst appearing to be more efficient."

    You mean like slashdot?
  • Not when you've got a half dozen staffers. They could have one person read the emails, send form letter responses, and tabulate the results, then forward on the 'unique' letters with special points on to the congressman for personal perusal.
  • Despite the internet hype, everything necessary can be done over the phone or even by post, without ever touching a computer!

    So, it's back to punch cards, is it?

  • Slashdot saying something doesn't mean that it is true.

    Without a doubt, they filter the letter-writing campaigns, because they are a waste of resources.

    However, each congressman's budget includes "constituent work" budgets, which includes helping constituents deal with the Federal government, and responding to letters.

    Why do they do that? Given the low turnout in congression elections (especially off-year), it is estimated that 5%-8% of the vote can be changed by these constituent actions.

    As a congressman, I'm nuts to let my staff trash anything. While Slashdotters probably will not affect their vote by the thing, my father's poorly constructed prose will definitely affect his vote, etc.

    The reason that they listen to letters is that they can't afford to alienate a vote.

    Assume average American. Family of 4. One of them writes their congressman. If he gets a response, they and their spouse are likely to view that person more favorably. They are also more likely to defend them to their friends, etc. Assume each response generates 3 votes (0-6), if you can get 5%-8% of the voters to personally identify you because you responded/helped their friends and family, you are a shoe-in.

    They would be insane to ignore e-mail. While your congressman doesn't personally read it, I can assure you that his staff has some people reading it, and letting him know what is going on.
  • Yeah, I particularly liked getting a letter from the local Congressman (Mass. liberal) explaining to me about how I can't get a tax cut on his tax-payer based correspondance note...

    The real travesty is that it was provided for Congress to keep the locals informed when the House was representing the people and the political elites controlled the Senate and White House (officially, not just in reality).

    It wasn't used much until computers... with targetted mail, Congress went nuts.

  • BTW, political correctness is the bane of our society.

    Funny thing...I wasn't being "politically" correct. Merely "inclusive," which is sort of an egalitarian thing to do, you see.

    If all persons in Congress were either male or female, I'd use gender specific terms. If all were white or black or purple, I might even use those terms. If they were all fat bastards, I'd say that too....

    But they aren't, so I went for gender neutral.

  • True, but at least it shows greater interest than if you spam a *congressman*.

    BTW, political correctness is the bane of our society.

  • by Dman33 ( 110217 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @09:57AM (#354074)
    I do not think moderation should look at a poster's past, but the merit of the post itself. If moderators think it is funny then so be it.

    Perhaps you should not be so anal as to care who does the post and look at the value of the post. If all posts should be serious then we should take away the +1, Funny option...

    I give you "-1, Needs a Life"
  • I'll bet you. I working in a Congressional office, and I've signed for mail. ;)

    This article is, excuse my french, total bullshit. Congressional office mailrooms have a staff of between two and five people to read through all that mail, sort it, and get a response. To say that they are unresponsive because they don't favor people who they don't represent over their constituents is just trolling.

    Note that ZDNet didn't say "Congressional offices ignore their constituent email" because that would be untrue. However, due to the volume of mail received (typically spammed to all congressmen, often included on a mailing list), offices often don't respond to email that didn't come from constituents.

    This is a pretty low thing for ZD to be writing. Most congressmen are strapped just to read all their constituent mail-- those are the people they should be responsible for communicating with. We responded to everything we received from constituents.

  • by swordgeek ( 112599 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:38AM (#354076) Journal
    "...But we've said it before, Reps don't understand bits and bytes. If you don't send them dead trees, they don't think you vote."

    Oh, they don't, do they? How about those clueless reps who are fighting the DMCA, and worked to get encryption software delisted as a weapon?

    Let's face it fifty thousand emails a month is WAY too much to read. That's over 2000/business day. If you had a secretary to do nothing but read email 40 hr/week, you _might_ get through it all.

    Of course they're going to ignore it. The sheer volume pretty much proves that any idiot with a computer and too much time can bash out an email to his rep. Write a real letter if you want to be heard.

  • Once you've got a reply that you really like, you save it somewhere, so you can grab it when needed. The next time someone asks the question, you insert the text file.

    What I would really like to see is our representatives putting some actual content on their web pages--FAQs on their opinions on the latest issues. That way when they start getting tons of duplicate messages, they can use that wonderful 5-char response: RTFM!

    If the FAQs were kept up-to-date, it would be a real benefit to democracy. Many times people don't realize that there is careful reasoning that goes into lawmakers' decisions that just doesn't occur to us. (and yes, sometimes that reasoning is planted in their ears in tandem with checks in their pockets, and sometimes there's no reasoning at all). But if our reprsentatives could tell us why they voted the way they did, without us having to sit through hours of CSPAN, that would be really cool, I think.

  • Each congresscritter gets some set amount of funding per year to maintain his or her office staff. Last year I have information on (1989, came across it by random chance, haven't been curious enough to find out more recently), the total staff salary was on the order of $400K, which sounds like a lot but a small congressperson's office probably employs 8-12 people (head AA, 2 or 3 other office people that handle mundanities and snail mail, staff in the home district, etc.). Simply put, they may not have the budget to dedicate 2+ more people to something as ephemeral as email.

    Of course, they could get interns, but a) there are only so many unpaid interns available, and b) unpaid interns and politicians are a potentially unstable mix... ;-)

    News for geeks in Austin: []
  • /. says: Reps don't understand bits and bytes. If you don't send them dead trees, they don't think you vote.

    I think they understand perfectly well. It takes significantly more effort to write a paper letter than an e-mail. If you were trying to figure out what issues your constituents really cared about, which would you pay more attention to?

    Its pretty common /. usage to say "don't understand" when you mean "don't respect, don't agree with me on or don't have time for."

    Aside from the effort that each shows, it says the main problem right there in the article. Emails are coming from all over the country to state based offices. A postal letter comes with a return address and even a postmark that says where it comes from. I'd be very suprized if the first sort that congressional mail went through wasn't to put anything out of their district on the bottom of the stack. Even faxes come with a return number. But email could be from anywhere, even a forgien country, and theres often no way to tell without reading through the letter hoping the person thought to mention thier address. How many times would you have a staffer spend all morning plowing through a thousand emails only to find that only 100 of them were from constituents before you decided they could be doing better things with their time.

    Finally, email responses are way too easy to "astroturf"* and while 1000 identical postcards are easy to stack and mostly ignore, 1000 identical emails are in some ways even more annoying. Long story short, if you want congress critters to pay attention to their email, stop people from spamming all 400 or so of them at the drop of a hat and use more restraint in mailing. (and put your name and home town in the subject line, maybe you'll make the cut that way)

    *Astroturf is a activist term for fake grassroots. In snail mail this means mailing out a bunch of postcards or letters preadressed to the recipients reps with a message on a particular issue. The recipeint just signs it and mails it in. With email versions, you go to a website and enter your zip plus four and get a form letter with your extra comments automaticly sent to your reps. (on the state issues I've worked on we often also send it to the governor, speaker of the house and senate president.)

    The problem is that telling your rep what you think is all well and good, but I worry about too much contact turning the situation into government by polling. When groups that I've worked with ask people to write their reps, we don't want them to just say "I support/don't support this", because when it comes down to it, we don't have the majority position on a lot of issues. we ask people to tell their rep WHY this issue is important, try to give them some insight into the real world cost or benifit of the legislation being discussed, give them more information than a data point on popularity. IMHO, if a thousand people write in and say "X is bad! No X!" and a hundred write in to explain how X will directly effect their lives and address the arguments against it, just counting up the "votes" and suporting the side with the most people is not what I expect from a congressman.

    Kahuna Burger

  • Fraid so.

    See, the Congressman for your state is your representative. That means that if you want stuff doing, you talk to him, and he passes it on. Talking to someone from another state - if they're interested/pleasant/not busy, then you may get an answer, but there's nothing that says they have to. They're not there to represent you, they're there to represent the ppl in their state.

    That's the theory, anyway. So if you send out emails to every Congressman about something, you've just wasted 49 of the 50 emails. And these 49 are going to obscure those ppl who genuinely do want to make themselves heard. You can probably except the chair of a committee - he/she takes on extra responsibilities with that. But the rest is pure spam.

    And "barrage" sounds a bit strong. If lots of ppl are sending in multiple messages just to put pressure on, basically you're DDOS-ing them. And that makes it likely that, as with any other messaging system, they'll just shut it down until the "attack" goes away.

    Personally anyway, my reply to ppl complaining about Napster is to shut up, stop whining, and grow up. But that's just my opinion...

  • it only costs $.33 to send.
    Really? Here in Canada, sending a letter to your Member of Parliament is free. No stamp required.
  • 55000 / 30 = approximately 1833 emails a day
    And that number is expected to go up after the recount!!! :)

  • Oh noooo! Then they'd be accountable for a consistent position! That would never, never, never fly. The important thing for an elected official is to be able to lie^H^H^Hadjust their message for selected constituencies. They absolutely thrive on hiding information, spinning, prevaricating and double-talking. Do you think they want to tell the public "the reason I voted NO on SB 109837 was because Strom promised me he'd put in a good word for SB 109900 with Dick, if I agreed to help kill 109837. I need 109900 because the cattle lobbyists put on that big party for me last month that raked in $1M for my campaign."

    Oh, no. RTFM is not going to happen, because there will never be an FM.
  • So outsource it. Last I heard, there were lots of English-speaking people in India who would be happy to work for $8K/year sorting email. Use one of your in-house staffers to conduct random statistical analyses for QA purposes.

    Ok, politically, that might be tricky. But I promise you that there are regions of the US with >15% unemployment and low costs of living, to which email sorting and analysis could be easily off-loaded.
    Hm, I think I smell a business.
  • I sent and e-mail to my congressmen (Jerry Moran and Sam Brownback) using's form that they had a while back. I didn't think anything of it, but a while later I got a response back in the mail from both of them. It even seemed like Jerry Moran understood the bill and was in favor of it. The bill hadn't made it to Senate yet, so Brownback didn't know as much about it.

  • I used to work in enterprise CRM software. Any solution that you pay $1M for is a custom solution.

    Some platforms, like Vignette, are merely engines upon which you can create a dynamic Web app. Any Vignette implementation is custom by its very nature... and Vignette as a company makes 80% of its revenue off Professional Services (ie customization) fees.

    (Another topic is what the heck does Vignette offer that you can't get with less money, your own programmers, and free software? But I digress.)
  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:52AM (#354107)
    Of course reps will ignore such vast quantities if the origin cannot be verified - who wouldn't?

    You can't have it both ways kids, the /. crowd equates anonymity to privacy, but total anonymity makes it pretty difficult to ascertain anything about an email automatically, so by default it should be discounted as spam.

  • by edp ( 171151 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:34AM (#354109) Homepage

    "The only person who can sign for it is the congressman, ..."

    Anybody can sign for a certified letter. For an additional fee, around $5, you can send it "restricted delivery." Then only the addressee or their registered agent can sign for it.

    Of course, your representative is supposed to live in your district, and their address is public record. If you really want to be sure they get the message, go knock on their door.

  • Email your representative letting them know how you feel about them not reading your email!
  • by Erasmus Darwin ( 183180 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:48AM (#354114)
    The phone allows just as much time-wasting, doesn't it?

    It depends. With a phone, the sender has to pay a significant time cost for each recipient. With email, there is virtually no cost for the sender to instantly send a given joke or other inane forward to 200 of his/her closest acquaintances.

    It's just too easy for someone to flood out the signal with noise. Someone you hardly know might not call you up to say, "Wazzup???", but there's a much lower treshold before they put you on their "Wazzup???", "All your base", "FW: FUNNY JOKES!!!", "Re: re: re: MISSING CHILD" mailing list.

  • by slutdot ( 207042 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:29AM (#354119)
    I have found that by sending an e-mail that isn't obviously cut and pasted from some other source that my e-mails will get a response.

    I recently wrote Senator Bob Graham of Florida regarding the Rangers' Black Beret and how the U.S. Army is screwing the Rangers by issuing the beret to every soldier. I wrote Senator Graham using my own words and not those of the Ranger Association []. I was surprised to get the response that I got. It was a detailed description as to why the Rangers are losing their black beret with responses that addressed my concerns. I don't agree with Senator Graham's position but at least he wrote me back in something other than a form letter. I believe that since I used my own words, Senator Graham's staff didn't ignore the message.
  • by commandant ( 208059 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:40AM (#354120)

    While certified mail with receipt is the only way to be sure somebody handled your mail, it is no guarantee the Congressman ever saw it, or that it was even read.

    In America, anybody can sign anybody's signature as long as the person signing is doing so with the full knowledge and consent of the signature owner.

    As Congressmen are quite busy, or would like you to think they are, it is almost certain that every Congressman has designated an signing agent.

    Most likely, said agent simply runs the document through the signature machine, so that it is a perfect match... you won't be able to tell who signed for your mail.

    I've always found the following two methods work perfectly for getting your Congressman's attention:

    1. Send a courier who refuses to leave the Congressman's office until the Congressman himself has received and read your letter, and then crafted a response.
    2. In a similar vein, go to your neighborhood mob hangout and get some knee-breakers to act as the courier in number 1.

    A new year calls for a new signature.

  • by atrowe ( 209484 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:18AM (#354122)
    If you replace "US Congress Representatives" with "CmdrTaco", the article still makes sense.

    Try it yourself!

  • by Mr_Silver ( 213637 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:40AM (#354125)
    Before everyone starts howling about these folks not reading your email bear in mind that:

    55000 / 30 = approximately 1833 emails a day

    A day!? Thats a hell of a lot of emails. I get approximately 200 a day and even then I don't have time to read them all let alone do any other work.

    Sending snail mail registered or not probably won't make much of a difference to be honest, 1833 messages is too much to read on a daily basis in whatever medium you care to think of.


  • If you want to get a message to your congressman - send a certified letter. The only person who can sign for it is the congressman, and you can even ask for proof of receipt.

    Wrong. The only person that can sign for it is a representative of the congressman. It's the same sorta system that allows a CEO's personal assistant to stamp his signature on checks. The actual congressman/CEO really doesn't have enough time to sign/read everything that comes his way. That what filters are for.

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @08:14AM (#354129) Homepage Journal
    Representatives have offices in their home districts, find yours, it's usually in the US Govt section of the phone book. Go there, introduce yourself, set appointments to meet with them when they are in.


  • by Auckerman ( 223266 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:28AM (#354133)
    E-mail is not as "real" as snail mail. What looks more impressive, 50 thousand emails or 50 thousand letters? The emails can be ignored and never downloaded, the snail mail just filled up your office and part of the hall way. The letters are gonna get your attention because if you dont do something about it, you won't be able to get in your office.

    Email is an annoyance, snail mail is a reality.

  • Now let's see a show of hands of those that have personally spoken with a congressperson. (Probable answer: .0001%)

    If you just show up at those weekly or monthly Town Halls they announce in the local paper, you can talk with them and they'll even give you coffee/tea and some snack food. You could work on some code during the boring parts, and there are usually only 30 to 40 people at such events.

    Not all forms of communication require an equal amount of investment by the communcator--therefore they should get unequal amounts of attention from the communicatee.

    Nothing wrong with gaming the program - just look at what everyone else does and do something different. Heck, I'm sure they'd notice if someone hacked their website ...

    If you want your opinion read, just write it down (or print it out)--it only costs $.33 to send.

    Nope, only costs $.20 to send a handwritten postcard with name, address, phone and brief message. Forget all the verbiage, and use a cool free postcard from your local coffee house or restaurant.

  • by Crio ( 246534 )
    so, cut your next letter in stone.
  • The Colonel's right. This list [] contains the names of companies smart enough to get their "message" out to congresspeople, and to Bush and Gore during the last election.

    If you love God, burn a church!
  • Expensive, but effective.

    Western Union still hand-delivers telegrams.

    Here's how you send a hand-delivered telegram:

    1. Call Western Union at 800-325-6000. Then wait for the live operator.
    2. Tell the operator that you want to send a hand-delivered telegram that needs to get there within the next few hours.
    3. It costs $17.95 for 15 words or less, and another $13.95 for the hand delivery. That's a total of $31.90. Most credit cards accepted.

    Quoted from []
  • by cavemanf16 ( 303184 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:26AM (#354147) Homepage Journal
    If you don't send them dead trees, they don't think you vote.

    Cmdr, what up? All the energy required to power the web, my computer, etc, certainly amounts to a lot of dead trees, or fossil fuel, or nuclear waste. So in a way, just sending email isn't being 'conservative' of the environment anyway. Plus, the written word on paper always says more than an electronic message shot off to whomever you want. Sending snail mail means you took some serious time to sit down and write/type it out and then put it in the mail. And W. already announced he isn't sending email anymore due to privacy concerns, so I think snail mail is still the way to go to be heard in this country.

  • According to the article in question, the congressfolk have access to the CRM software, but don't use it, perhaps out of apathy.

    I saw This article earlier today, and it really got my guts frothing. Congress works for *us*, not the other way around, but they sometimes forget that sort of stuff.

  • I used to work in the political milieu and I can tell you that BillyGoatThree is right on there. My lobbying organization would generate blizzards of pre-printed postcards to representatives with absurd stuff like "I believe [the following seven paragraphs of hypertechnical blather about some bill number and its amendments]" and get people to sign them. Big deal. Occasionally, people would take the time to write out the letter and it would be taken -much- more seriously. Much of the mail/e-mail received by a legislator essentially -is- spam -- even "handwritten" letters people (before the days of E-mail) would essentially copy-and-paste from a "sample" letter we gave them. Legislators are not impressed by hundreds of copies of word-for-word plagiarism. :) However, if letters don't appear to be coordinated by lobby groups, they are paid much more attention -- they show that awareness is getting outside the rabblerousing groups out into the general public. I testified at a government hearing once about a pending regulation -- I can tell you that there the comments were paid some heed. Still not a heck of a lot, but this time you had to drive to the location, go into the auditorium, and wait an hour for your turn to talk. And the vast majority of people who took the time to do that knew what they were talking about (myself not included :) ). The other pressure point is the kind of lobby group I worked for. People listened to us because we "represented" our membership. So if you care about an issue, you can bring it to a group's attention and might get it paid some attention, while your mail/e-mail/whatever might get lost in the shuffle.
  • by CyberDawg ( 318613 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:36AM (#354162) Homepage

    The facts (at least, I'm assuming them to be facts) and statistics in the article are saddening. There is, however, still a way to get your message through.

    First, follow the rules they set. If you're writing about a specific issue, make the subject line of the message reflect the issue and your position. As an example, "Please vote NO on AB12345." Most emails, like most snail mails and faxes, are just used to tally support for a position. This means, of course, that the carefully thought-out and worded contents of your email will probably never be seen.

    Second, identify yourself properly. Members of the House, for example, are elected to represent only members of their own district, and if you don't show a snail mail address in their district, they're not going to pay attention to your email.

    Third, ask for action in a separate email. Not the one with the short, sweet "No on AB12345" header. Like I said, they probably didn't read it. Send an email asking for information or asking for some specific document (again, make the header clear and identify yourself). Staffers will deal with those, and if you phrase your message well, you can get across a point along with your request. If you phrase it extremely well, the staffer will pass it on to the boss.

    There's no question, though, that emails get lower priority than phone calls, faxes, or snail mail. I don't like it, and I don't agree with it, but when the subject matters, I do my best to go around it.

  • You mean CmdrTaco has constituents?! What's his jurisdiction?! I want to move there!

  • I agree man! I just bought a 1.1Ghz athlon so I could check my mail faster! With a beowulf cluster, I bet they could process those 50,000 e-mails in a few seconds!

  • Please mod him down.
  • by BillyGoatThree ( 324006 ) on Monday March 19, 2001 @07:45AM (#354167)
    Or understand all too well?

    Let's see a show of hands of all those that have emailed a congressperson via webpage touting some issue. (Probable answer: 60%)

    Now let's see a show of hands of those that have emailed a congressperson "manually". (Probable answer: 30%)

    Now let's see a show of hands of those that have snailmailed a congressperson. (Probable answer: 2%)

    Now let's see a show of hands of those that have personally spoken with a congressperson. (Probable answer: .0001%)

    Not all forms of communication require an equal amount of investment by the communcator--therefore they should get unequal amounts of attention from the communicatee.

    If you want your opinion read, just write it down (or print it out)--it only costs $.33 to send.

    Addenda: Not all congresspeople are deleting all mail. I emailed my reps recently and got a physical (admittedly form-) letter back from one of them.
  • one way i got my MPs to listen (yes, i live in the UK) is to use an email to fax gateway []. stand [] (campaining again the RIP act and others) do a similar thing with a form and some drop down boxes to choose your MP.

    have a go - it opens up your communication methods. sure i wish everyone used email, but they don't yet.

    i was angry:1 with:2 my:4 friend - i told:3 4 wrath:5, 4 5 did end.

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.