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United States

Handling Email Overload in Congress 218

DedHerring writes "A piece from Roll Call, a newspaper on the hill, that describes how Congressional offices are working to identify which of the many bulk emails received are actually from constituents of their district. Worth a read to know if the click-through online petition you participate in is ever going to be considered by the recipient legislator. Confirms many posts in Slashdot on this topic."
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Handling Email Overload in Congress

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  • ... is to write a real pen and ink letter. Some poeple sya they aent mroe effective but i they are. I know many people have received resonses from real letters as opposed to email. Also phone calls work good.
    • wow offtopic this fast? how is this offtopic? i think its very important peopel dont forget t0o write real letter along with emails...
    • i agre. a reel letter wil awlysa get a mroe effetvice repsonse. if the recipeinte can read it, that si.
      • haha you should know that on slashdot misspelling is GOOD form... well i know i know i typed it too fast but btw if oyu ever DO write a letter to someone important you better get every little detail right or they wont waste their time...
    • Another way to be heard is to spell correctly.
    • I've found, at least with my Congressman and Senators here in Indiana, that I have almost always received a written response to e-mail within about 4 weeks or less of sending it.

      If you weren't smart enough to figure it out yourself, they usually something like BFE : jkq in the lower left which tells you who wrote the letter for who. With my congressman, I have actually received letters either composed by him, or by someone with the same initials.

      • Oh, except Richard Lugar. He has not once written me back. Grrr
        • haha well in washington state here we have a real networks CEO so i suppose she would be spam savvy on her own but im really worried about some of the 60 or 70 + year old senators who dont have the time to learn how to deal with it... i guess it depends on your area... i should hope a seattle respresentative knows something about computers as they are a major force in the economy around here...
          • haha well in washington state here we have a real networks CEO so i suppose she would be spam savvy on her own but im really worried about some of the 60 or 70 + year old senators who dont have the time to learn how to deal with it.

            It doesnt really matter how computer savvy that politician is, in my opinion...

            None of em are just reading their emails on their own (unless it comes from a certain list of adresses), just like none of em field general phone calls from the public themselves, or read faxes that havent been first screened. That what their aides do, and you can bet the young interns that hold these positions probably do have a clue about these things.

            Fact is no matter what you write, call about, or email there is only one way to actually get your point heard, and thats to be articulate and convincing about something that may serve the politician well later when looking for talking points in a debate, form letters won't cut it... everything else gets you 1 more checkmark in the pro or con column of numbers that they will look at later on.
    • Recently congressional mail has taken months. (Due, of course, to bioterrorism fears) I have friends that have found that 2002 mail takes a lot longer in Washington DC.

      -Sean
    • they don't work either. I wrote a letter and 6 weeks later I get a "please donate, so we can kick out the $bad_party" letter in response.
    • by ces ( 119879 ) <christoph[ ]stef ... m ['er.' in gap]> on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:37PM (#4270968) Homepage Journal
      Right now the best way to contact your Senators and Congressman is via phone. Postal mail sent to your represenatives DC offices is subject to long delays. From Senator Maria Cantwell's site:

      "Mail service to my Washington, D.C. Senate office has resumed, but will be slowed down. It will take about three weeks for your letter to be delivered. I ask that you be patient with written correspondence to and from my office, and when possible use alternatives such as email, phone, or fax. Thanks."

      Another alternative is to send postal mail to your representatives' district or state offices.
      • I agree with you. Most of the time snail mail is good but when you use the phone you can easily call several times untill the secratary starts to reginize you and mentions you personally to whomever you're trying to contact... rememember that when your trying to get your point across the more they think about you the better chance you ave to sway them...

      • It will take about three weeks for your letter to be delivered.
        That's an extremely optomistic estimate.

        I have an associate who was among a group of citizens who managed to scor some face time with a couple of representatives from our state. They were told that some of the mail currently arriving is dated from December. But the worst aspect of it is the condition it arrives in after the irradiation and other special handling it receives because of the new "safety measures". The ink is frequently faded and illegible, the paper is rendered brittle and often already crumbled in pieces, and photographs are blistered. In short it has effectively ceased to be a useful means of communication.

        This is attrocious when you consider that it had been the most practical, cheapest, AND most importantly, the most universally available means of communicating citizen opinion to our representatives.

        With email being overwhelming to congressional offices as described here, it seems like faxing is the remaining method available for those who can't afford lobbyists. Sure, you can use fax machines at Kinko's, and prepaid phone cards for long-distance charges. But that's definitely a higher barrier than a piece of paper, envelope and $.37 stamp (let alone a postcard & $.23 stamp).

        -Sporktoast

  • damn polticians (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cdf12345 ( 412812 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:06PM (#4270845) Homepage Journal
    "And frustrated offices are faced with two less-than-ideal choices: delete the e-mail and ignore a potential constituent or spend valuable staff time and resources corresponding with nonconstituents - a civic-minded approach, perhaps, but not efficacious for Members who are up for re-election every two years. "

    It always boils down to two things for them, money and re-election. The whole thing makes me sick.
    • It always boils down to two things for them, money and re-election.

      What kind of troll is this? Other than making a living and keeping your job, what does it boil down to for you?

      • Re:damn polticians (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cdf12345 ( 412812 )
        not a troll fyi:

        Gee I dunno maybe that politicians shouldn't worry so much about reelection and should just do good work.

        Seems to me I'd vote for a politician in a second if he completely adandoned reelection campaigning and instead worked on issues.
        • Seems to me I'd vote for a politician in a second if he completely adandoned reelection campaigning...

          No, you wouldn't, because you'd have never heard of him in the first place.

      • There is a reason that what these people do is (laughably) called "public service".

    • It always boils down to two things for them, money and re-election. The whole thing makes me sick.

      I really don't see why. The system is designed that way on purpose; the politicians' desire to get campaign money and re-elections motivates them to follow their constituents' wishes.

      Granted it's not an ideal moral situation, but so what? That's what democracy is for: to ensure politicians follow the desires of the people they represent. If we could count on them making the right and moral decisions all the time, we'd have a monarchy instead.
  • Snail Mail (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ztc ( 516339 )
    Seems to be the best approach (short of actually talking face-to-face with them) to reach a representative.

    I can remember once in high school where they 'make' us a write letter to our Representatives, Senators, Governor, etc. I actually received a response from my Rep about some educational issues / policies at the time. This was only a few years back (late 90s), so I can't imagine much as changed.

    However, I've *never* gotten much (if any) response from email.

    I think it shows that a well-written letter shows effort, and showing effort is an effective way to get across the message that 'you care.'
    • >>I can't imagine much as changed.

      While what you say (i.e., in the whole post) is true, do bear in mind the the anthrax incident added another big layer that snail mail must go through that will cause a delay of a couple weeks at least.
    • P.A.T.R.I.O.T. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SgtChaireBourne ( 457691 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @01:00AM (#4271202) Homepage
      Actually fax is probably better. Congress, as you see, is not set up to handle e-mail, even without spam.

      Now that any right- or left-winger with an axe to grind can send an evelope full of confectioner's sugar, snail mail is not an option. Ask youself, how many of those mails delayed by the anthrax panic were critical of the PATRIOT act and other scams? Right, probably no one knows. During a key window of time, when the need for citizen input was most critical, citizen input was removed from the decision process.

      • Ask youself, how many of those mails delayed by the anthrax panic were critical of the PATRIOT act and other scams? Right, probably no one knows. During a key window of time, when the need for citizen input was most critical, citizen input was removed from the decision process.

        How many were critical? Probably the same proportion of people who were critical of the Patriot act in other mediums at that time.

        As for citizen input... no. I do not pay my taxes so my well-educated and often intelligent representatives can be slaves to pollsters. I expect all four of my federal elected representatives (one president, two senators, and a house member) to think on their own, follow their moral compass, and at the very least remain constant to what is important and what they campaigned as.

        Oh, and the PATRIOT act would be an "abuse", not a scam. The Feds were completely honest about wanting more power, and they got more power--no one in government was swindled.

      • It is not merely a window of time that has come and gone. Postal mail is still being delayed significantly, and actually it is almost destroyed by the irradiation and other mail handling procedures that have been initiated, post-anthrax incidents. Now, it is citizen input on Desert Storm II: This time it's personal! that isn't getting through.

        As I mentioned in another post, I have some friends in a grass-roots group who got some face-time with some state representatives who hear from them that mail from December is still arriving, and that the ink is faded to almost illegible, the paper is brittle and crumbly, and photographs are faded, cracked, blistering and peeling.

        The cheapest and most accessible method of citizen input is still being removed from the process.

        -Sporktoast

    • by Akinyele ( 602724 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @01:19AM (#4271236)
      I cringe every time someone says that sending a fax or a snail mail to one's representative or senator is more effective than sending an email. Guess what? It's really not. Why trust me? Because I worked in Congress.

      Here's what happens to your letters in most congressional offices: First, an intern or secretary gets the mail and sorts it into groups based on the contents of each letter. Many letters are from actual groups that represent one lobby or another: those get sent to various legislative assistants who can send some specifc info to each group.

      Then, there is the mail from constituents, much of which consists of generic postcards...AARP postcards exceeded by far any other postcard received by the office in which I worked. Those old people sure know how to send in those damn postcards! These get counted up each day, but don't merit a personal response. More rare are actual letters from constituents. These go to a secretary or an intern who basically works off of this template:

      Dear [name],

      Thank you for writing about [issue]. I appreciate your input on [issue]. [Stance on issue].

      Sincerely, [signature of elected official produced using a laser printer or a stamp]

      Then, there is stuff marked "personal," which goes to the congressperson's personal secretary. I think the congressperson might actually read some of this, but don't try marking stuff personal when it's really just some political bullshit. That probably breaks some law, or, at the very least gets you on the congressperson's bad side.

      So, you want to know what really works? One way to go is "voting with your dollars," but c'mon, you can't possibly have more money than any of the real lobbying groups that bombard your congressperson with propoganda (read: $$$) day after day. The other way is to set up an appointment to actually speak, face to face, with your congressperson. It actually happens. This may require you to join some sort of group, but if you believe strongly enough in a cause, it's worth it to get over your fear of public speaking and attempt to talk to the person who supposedly represents you. That is the only way you stand a chance of not being just another letter ignored.

      PS, I don't give a fuck how you mod this, but sometimes, the truth hurts.
      • Yup, go meet 'em (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ethelred Unraed ( 32954 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @06:08AM (#4271734) Journal
        The other way is to set up an appointment to actually speak, face to face, with your congressperson. It actually happens.

        Yup, that does work. I went and met my Congressman, Bruce Vento (since deceased), to talk to him about a couple of issues -- he was on the Banking Committee and was in hearings about new banknotes, so I talked to him about that, and also about the IT industry. We talked for a good 20 minutes in his office, face-to-face, nobody else there.

        I also got to talk to my Senator's chief of staff -- getting to meet your Senator is pretty hard, but the chief of staff is the next best thing (talked to him about the same issues as well as immigration issues because of my wife).

        An aside: this goes both ways. I was very happy that Vento and Wellstone's chief of staff met me and took a fair amount of time to talk (about 20 minutes each); both took notes and I got pretty detailed responses by mail later. That was good. So I didn't feel at all bad about voting for them -- I was glad that they at least seemed to care about what I was talking about.

        The "other" Senator from Minnesota at the time was Rod Grams. His office wouldn't even give me the time of day. I probably wouldn't have voted for the twit anyway, but that really needlessly insulted a potential voter (and he's no longer in office ;-> ).

        All you have to do is look in the phone book, call your congresscritter's office, ask for an appointment (but tell them in advance what you want to talk about so they don't think it's a prank), and they will usually take the time to meet you. Maybe even bring some fellow constituents along to drive the point home.

        Much harder to ignore a gaggle of constituents in your office than a lousy e-mail or postcard, and makes a bigger impression because you took the time to go there and meet them.

        Cheers,

        Ethelred [grantham.de]

  • It has been a really old tactic for special interests to create artificially inflated 'letter writing campaigns' and 'petitions' that were just taking names from the phone book or using professional petition circulators.

    But it is obvious, If all you are going to do is cut and paste a suggested letter into your e-mail system or click a button on a web site or hit a link do you thing that your action really deserves much attention considering how little effort you put into it? If you really care then take the time to draft your own letter in your own words. Your sincerity and personal effort will come through, just like it did with a personally composed and handwritten letter.

  • ...especially in the offices of our more, erm, elderly congressmen. How do you determine which messages are spam and which messages are Orrin Hatch's real communications about herbal viagra and colon cleansing? ;)
  • Since a lot of politicians depend on 'supportive' parties for "$$$MONEY!!!$$$", i guess this shed some light in modern politics :)
  • Happy side effect? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MissMyNewton ( 521420 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:10PM (#4270862)
    Perhaps this will have the happy side effect of demonstrating to the polits that spam has true costs to recipients, not only in transfer-across-the-wire and storage costs, but in management costs as well.

    Hopefully this will bring something good to bear. I doubt it but I hope it...
  • So, from what I read, this is what I gathered: Gary Condit read too many spam e-mails, and bought some virility pills. He took one accidentally instead of the tylenol he wanted to take, and ended up grabbing the nearest woman nearby, who ended up being Chandra Levy. From there, it went downhill.
    One more lesson for the congressmen why we need anti-spam legislation, not just anti-forged-headers and anti-no-unsubscribe legislation.
  • by Spy Hunter ( 317220 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:17PM (#4270880) Journal
    Here's a new way to fight spam: Paste your Congressperson's email all over your popular website. Soon they'll be getting tons of spam, and they'll get so fed up with filtering out the real mails they'll start passing anti-spam laws.
  • by StArSkY ( 128453 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:17PM (#4270885) Homepage
    This confirms my belief that the simplest forms of communications are often the least effective.

    Email is most anonymous and potentially anonymous, and hence has the least chance of being taken seriously.

    A phone call is better, and even more so a letter. But the best (and for obvious reasons), the hardest to to is a face to face meeting.

    A solution to the problem mentioned: In australia we have an electoral roll, and I am sure you guys in the US do aswell. Why can't they just allow e-mail addresses to be added to the electoral role. Obviously some privacy protections would be needed, but it is surely possible.

    On the otherhand, does it really matter if people are constituents or not? Is broad public and global opinion more important that those of an individual community, county or state? Hrm... an interesting question is posed here..... damn I don't have the answer to this one.
    • by Jim McCoy ( 3961 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @12:01AM (#4271046) Homepage
      On the otherhand, does it really matter if people are constituents or not? Is broad public and global opinion more important that those of an individual community, county or state?



      Given that it is the legislators job to listen to and represent the views of their constituents (and no one else) then it actually does matter if people sending in email reside in that legislators district or not. That is how the system is supposed to works. Representatives and Senators are elected to represent the interests of the local community within the federal system, so broad public and global opinion is not just less important than local opinion, it is not important at all. Legistlators that start listening to broad public and global opinion soon find themselves out of a nice, cushy job if that broad public and global opinion is contrary to local interests. If the broad public and global interests care so much then they should complain to their own legislative representatives.

      • by dillon_rinker ( 17944 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @12:43AM (#4271165) Homepage
        listen to and represent the views of their constituents (and no one else)

        Did you know that corporations cannot vote? Did you know that congresscritters listen to corporations? Do you think you could get 30 minutes alone with your congresscritter? Do you think Bill Gates could? Of course he could. Unless you live in Washington state, Bill Gates is not a constituent of your congresscritter. This is wrong.
        • Do you think you could get 30 minutes alone with your congresscritter?

          Yes, have multiple times. You can make an apt., or you can catch him/her on the campaign trail.
          Do you think Bill Gates could?

          Yes, he could make an apt just like anyone else.
        • Did you know that corporations cannot vote? Did you know that congresscritters listen to corporations?
          I'll certianly agree with this. Why do corporations get any special attention at all from the federal government, when it is the individual (not the corporation) who influences whether or not they stay in office?

          Simple answer: bribes.

          • Due to a particularly bone-headed Supreme Court opinion, Corporations are legally individuals and entitled to all of the rights granted in the Constitution. To my way of thinking, that makes them liable for all of the responsibilities as well. This is why I get pissed when someone claims the corporate income tax is a double tax. If the corps are individuals in the eyes of the law, then they can file 1040s with the rest of us. I would gladly trade corporate taxes for binding limits on corporate campaign contributions along the lines of no tax = no contributions.

        • Last time I check, Corportations were run by *people*, who I beleive fall under the constituent clause...

          Buisness is the same as any other large group. "Hey, congresscritter, my name is Sam, and I am the CEO of Pretty Large Inc. Did you know bill X might force me to lay off 3,000 employees? Just thought you might want to know the impact of the legislation."

          What is so wrong about that?
        • No, corporations don't vote, but employees do. Corporations and industries have valid viewpoints that should be heard if we want good, effective laws that actually work in practice. In general passing laws about stuff you know nothing about firsthand is not a really good idea, and the people who know how stuff works usually work in industry. The self-interest of corporations have to be balanced against public opinion, public good, legal priciples, and other interested parties, of course, but shutting them out because you don't like them really isn't the answer. (All this applies to labor unions too, which can be every bit as selfish and destructive as any coporation.)

          And, yes, you can meet with your congressman. Read above for a great post explaining how you can do exactly that.
          • Voting is the least effective way of getting a political point across. Better ways are PACs, writing to your congressperson, protest rallies, or targetted commericials. By voting, you're merely expressing your dislike or like for a person, not on a specific issue. Plus, you only vote a maximum of twice a year, so it's not like you can immediately vote if the next super-DMCA goes on the floor (oops, too late).

            I hear Russia can declare an immediate vote of congressmen, given certain situations. I think it's if the president vetos a bill several times. Probably to prevent deadlock or congress from getting away with murder several months/years before an election. This is one of the reasons why a current democracy will thrive better than an old-world democracy. (If somebody from the Motherland can give me some details, I'd appreciate it.)
      • Given that it is the legislators job to listen to and represent the views of their constituents (and no one else)...

        And that's one reason why Washington, DC, is such a mess. There's a congressional committee in charge of managing District affairs (doing things like overruling the decisions of the elected city council and ignoring the results of referenda), but the members of the committee have no obligation or inclination to listen to the people whose lives are affected by their decisions.

        Those of us who live in DC (not the tourists and politicians who plague the city) pay federal taxes, fight in wars, and perform all the other obligations of US citizenship, but we have no vote [dcvote.org] in the Congress, the body that determines how those taxes are spent and where those wars are fought.

        It's ludicrous for the United States to lecture other countries about democracy when it is lacking basic democracy in its own capital.

    • window.....

      "Just trying to get you to focus on the issues, M. Antoinette".
      • I'm actually kinda sorry I used up my last mod point smacking down some trollers. I wish I could have used it to mod you up.
    • The matter of constituency is important. One legislator can't really represent the whole country, but they can represent a small district (especially in the house). Also, it allows all the views of various geographies to be represented from the bible belt to Berkeley.
      • If so, then why does Senator Fritz Hollings of S. Carolina work so hard on behalf of Disney and other "Hollywood" businesses?

        Why do companies like Disney and Microsoft spend so much money lobbying representatives outside of their home districts if legislators are only supposed to represent their consituents?

        - Robin
    • Putting email addresses on *that* would be a spammer's paradise. Even if it was restricted to local representatives, that would only induce them to become, in effect, spammers.

      As to whether a person is a constituent is important, politicians are supposed to, at least in part, represent the views of their local area whilst keeping in mind the greater good of the country and the world. Therefore, I don't see any problem with them giving greater weight to constitutent contact.

    • "Email is most anonymous and potentially anonymous, and hence has the least chance of being taken seriously"

      Now imagine signed and encrypted email.

      "On the otherhand, does it really matter if people are constituents or not? "

      Yes, my representative represents me and the people in my district. Not some pro-lifers from Georgia who can write an email script.
    • A solution to the problem mentioned: In australia we have an electoral roll, and I am sure you guys in the US do aswell. Why can't they just allow e-mail addresses to be added to the electoral role. Obviously some privacy protections would be needed, but it is surely possible.

      Don't add e-mailaddresses; they change too often. Instead allow people to get a unique number (only used for communicating with representatives) from the same place they could get their driver's license or whatever is convenient and require that number to be present somewhere in the subject or body of e-mails. If no valid number is found, bounce the e-mail with an explanatory message.

      That way no e-mail is ignored and constituents can easily be recognised. Numbers could be assigned anonymously from a local pool, so they could only be used to verify someone is a constituent, but not to uniquely identify that person. Privacy respected, system working, everybody happy.
    • A phone call is better, and even more so a letter. But the best (and for obvious reasons), the hardest to to is a face to face meeting.

      You haven't calibrated your scale for strip-o-grams.
  • /. Congress (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bobdotorg ( 598873 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:18PM (#4270887)
    Spam first got on my nerves in '94, and at the time very few members of Congress had websites, encouraged email. What I thought would be a great idea to get Congressional action on spam would be to get a few hundred thousand people to forward each and every piece of spam they received to all 535 members of Congress. Include a sentence in the body of the email to the effect of, "Dear Congressman / Congresswoman, Please pass legislation outlawing this kind of unsolicited commercial email.... blah blah blah...."

    Now if each member of congress received a few hundred thousand pieces of forwarded spam a day, what might they do? Outlawing the forwarding of spam to elected officials, with a legislative suggestion, would certainly be more of a 1st Ammendment violation than outlawing spam itself.
    --
  • Why not just cut Congress off from the Internet in the first place? I am sure it costs a fortune to operate and secure from hackers. If they are not using it for our benefit, what's the point? If they need to surf and read e-mail, do it at home like most workers have too. Everything that Congress does, anyways, is printed in the Federal Register [gpo.gov] so disconnecting their offices doesn't prevent them from communicating to the public electronically. Congress ran for over 200+ years without e-mail and it doesn't seem to run better with it. Its not like they have figured why I'm not getting Social Security. Instead of ignoring e-mail, they could focus on fixing that.
  • If they get enough garbage, maybe they will take the SPAM problem seriously.


    If their aides have to spend lots of time sifting through SPAM, they will do something about it.

    • trust me they do spend time, or they are supposed to. Most of them just delete in mass and forward a random few through while chatting up the hottie in the next cube. [rant]This kind of behavior also begins to explain why the Reps have such a low opinion of email, the crap they see is sorted by someone who would lose a spelling bee to a box of rocks.[/rant]
    • Nah, keep pressure up for a spamless socieity. It would increase general productivity, in other words provide an economic boost, to have a spam free Internet again. How many man hours are wasted dealing with spam and spam related problems (filled HD, filters, etc.).

      If congress is flooded with spam they'll probably just write off all e-mail. These people have never experience spamless e-mail and like most people can't think outside the short term present.

      In a similar case in a province I worked in, face time was the only way to communicate with the leaders of the local instutions, universities, and companies, but only after first being properly introduced by a mutual collegue.

      These leaders' introduction to e-mail was usually through a dot-com IT-solution. Usually a hit-n-run job using junk like MS-0utlook, which though full of eye-candy and familiar menus, is a poor substitute for a mail client. Since they probably got in on the IPO of the dot-bomb that did the hit-n-run, they're loathe to admit that the software doesn't work, and as weak leaders loathe to admit they don't know how, why or when to use e-mail.

      In a classic chicken and egg problem, none of their colleagues send e-mail either, so it just sits there as an expensive status object. So each time they checked their mail (3-4 times a month), there are no work-related messages that weren't seen on paper first, no work-related messages, but about 50 spam. None of them have a visionary bone in their body so the collective decision, after enough time, is that e-mail == spam.

  • simple answer (Score:5, Informative)

    by Archfeld ( 6757 ) <treboreel@live.com> on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:23PM (#4270907) Journal
    Put your full name and your ZIP code if it is really your rep. The aides will recognize the zip as valid info, and a full name will lend credence enough to get the item past the first sweep and under a humans eye's.
  • Constituent Email (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:24PM (#4270911) Homepage Journal
    I send about two constituent emails a month. I always get responses on issues I agree with my representatives on; I never get responses on issues I disagree with them on. As a third party voter, I overlap with both the majority parties quite a bit (Republicrats on gun control, Demicrans on free speech), yet it's obvious that the candidates don't give a crap about what I think, only about their market positioning.
  • They need to keep a list of only the people who voted for them. Then, just accept emails from people on the list.

    If you send an email "they" don't like, they respond, then take you off the list.

    See, no problem!
  • by FyRE666 ( 263011 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:28PM (#4270933) Homepage
    I collect up and forward all my spam onto various MPs every so often. It certainly seems to be doing the trick [theregister.co.uk] with this MP ;-)

    And I quote: "The MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey told The Register that he is "sick of the excuses" and wants something done to curb the amount of spam pouring into people's in-boxes.

    In particular, he's concerned about the rising quantity of pornographic spam and the impact it may have on children using the Net. "
    • ...In other, unrelated, news, The MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey has started a new campaign which requires all pornographic material destined for minors to be rerouted to, oddly enough, his mail address for further review.
  • Do people actually think that point and click emails to Congress members or those online petition/online fax sending sites actually work? if you are not from the member's district, they don't care that you won't vote for them.
  • I think what's at issue here is that sending an e-mail takes almost no time or effort investment on the part of the writer, while snail mail takes time to write, address and mail. This is the same reason that flamewars start so easily on the internet -- if someone pisses you off, it takes under 30 seconds to hit 'reply', compose a nasty little flame, and hit 'send'. On the other hand, if you were sending it out by snail mail, you might have had a chance to calm down on your walk to the mailbox.

    So what does this matter? Well, even discounting the cynical stuff about getting reelected, figuring out what really matters to constituents is an important part of a representative's job. And if someone goes out of their way to type and snail-mail a letter, you can be sure that the issue is important to them. If someone just filled in a few fields on a web-form and hit submit, it's much harder to tell to what extent the person cares about the issue, or has thought about it. And that has to factor into the thinking of the representative and his/her staff.

    • Personally I doubt many people would take me as seriously if they saw my attrocious handwriting. This is due to my reliance on computers and other keyboard/keypad operated devices in place of pen and paper. I never use a pen anymore except to write the odd cheque - my hand now gets tired and aches after writing a few lines on the rare occasions I attempt it.

      I can see the day coming when schoolkids are no longer taught to write, since it'll be as obsolete as caligraphy.
  • Here are a few simple guidelines to figure out whether it's bulk mail or not, and what to do with it:

    1. Is it a Viagra ad? If it's a Viagra ad, you might want to keep it (you're getting old...), but it's not in your jurisdiction.
    2. Is it an add to smuggle several million dollars out of some estranged third-world country, and all they need is your bank number? If it is, you might want to keep it (you know, "soft" money...), but it's not in your jurisdiction.
    3. Is it an ad for special non-accredited diplomas? If it is an ad for diplomas, you might want to forward it to Bush twenty-or-so times in the hopes that it will somehow make him intelligent.
    4. Is it a porn ad? If it is, remember that it's not spam if you request it.
  • by oh ( 68589 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:37PM (#4270970) Journal
    Can the general public use these tags? I understand that this system was set up in co-operation between the government and two companies that sound like lobbiests for hire.

    How does my cousin in SF use this system to make sure his email will get to his senator? Does he have to go to one of these two companies and pay them to lable his email correctly?

    Am I jumping to conclusions? Reading this quote.

    In the House, groups could funnel their communications through the "Write Your Representative" Web form,

    It sounds like you have to be a special interest group who has paid for the system to use it. This system might be used to filter all email, but if the general public aren't informed of how to use it, then their email will be sent to /dev/null.

    Maybe there should be a web page at http://www.house.gov/ [house.gov] that would let you use this system, then you mom-and-pop AOL users can get "equal time".
  • by Brett Glass ( 98525 ) on Monday September 16, 2002 @11:41PM (#4270984) Homepage
    In theory, any citizen should have an equal influence on Congress' handling of any issue. Yet, due to the Congressional committee system, it is necessary to be heard by legislators of whom one is not a constituent for this to occur. If legislators "tune out" non-constituents, we're all effectively disenfranchised. Therefore, legislators should not be allowed to ignore non-constituents's comments on areas on which they have special influence.
    • Brett Glass wrote:
      ``Yet, due to the Congressional committee system, it is necessary to be heard by legislators of whom one is not a constituent for this to occur. If legislators "tune out" non-constituents, we're all effectively disenfranchised."

      Now you wouldn't be thinking of a specific congressman who did this, would you? One elected from South Carolina, but who represents the Disney Corporation?

      Geoff
  • From the "about" section of your campaign site [iwancio2002.org]:
    Many (if not most) elections revolve around the platforms of the candidates, to the point where often the platforms are more important to the voters than the candidates themselves. I intend to avoid platforms altogether. In my opinion, political platforms are little more than pieces of driftwood politicians cling to when cast adrift in the Potomac, away from the voters. Through the internet I intend never to be away from the voters of our district long enough to need a platform. I can present issues that spring up to the voters directly instead of having to rely on a platform set in stone for two years.
    How do you plan to deal with the volume of electronic input (including e-mail) you will recieve if elected, given that congressmen who do not specifically ask for electronic input already have trouble handling their e-mail? I understand that you plan to set up a Slashdot-like system for your Louisiana district [iwancio2002.org] with moderation, but moderation isn't perfect.
    • People can abuse moderation by only moderating up only posts whose conclusion they agree with, and I would expect this problem to be greater in an environment where important decisions may be made based on the comments.
    • Moderation is good for getting interesting ideas from multiple viewpoints (when it is not abused) and for finding the majority (when it is abused), but it is not ideal for reaching consensus, where the ideas backed by the best arguments and most trusted debaters win. How will you look at comments and decide how to vote on an issue?
    • In Congress, you may find yourself wanting to suggest compromises regarding bills and riders. How will you determine which issues are most important to your state and district?
    • Moderation does little to fix the simple problem that there are too many posts for everyone to read. Will you read all posts, or will you rely on moderation to filter up the best comments for you to read?
    • Will you participate in online debates yourself?
  • In my experience... (Score:2, Informative)

    by PizzaFace ( 593587 )
    I worked in a Congressional office back in the day, and your opinion doesn't count if you're not (a) a constituent in the congressional district, (b) a leader who can affect opinion in the district (e.g. Billy Graham), or (c) a personally respected acquaintance of the Member (which could include a donor). Don't get cynical or indignant about being ignored if you're not in the district; respect the congressman for focusing on the folks back home.

    As has been said already, your opinion carries more weight if you go to more trouble to express it. Arrange an appointment with the congressman and he'll listen to you. Meet an aide and the congressman will get a memo on what you had to say. Send a letter from his district and your opinion will at least get tallied. If it's not a form letter, there's a good chance your congressman will read it, otherwise an aide will see it. Send an e-mail and you might get a response if you're from the district. If you don't show you're from the district, you probably won't be counted.

    If you really care about an issue, don't think you've done your part by clicking a button on a website. Bundle your opinion with others THAT COUNT. Circulate a local petition, or get your civic association or student assembly or local professional organization chapter to pass a resolution, or write an op-ed for your local paper. "Think globally, act locally," is advice learned from experience.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @12:56AM (#4271190)
    What we really need is a unique email count for each congressman.

    Then we need to not reelect the top 10% of these people, since they are obviously pissing off their constituents.

    Email volume as more or less an inverse measure of approval...

    -- Terry
    • Email volume as more or less an inverse measure of approval...

      I'm not sure that's true. On the occasions when I have contacted my senator or representative, it has almost always been to voice my opinions about an issue in an upcoming vote, to encourage action against a policy which I find reprehensible, etc. Very rarely have I written to complain about their vote/conduct/etc.

      Might it not be that the representatives who receive the most email also happen to have the most politically aware and active constituents?
      • You elect someone for their judgement, not their positions on particular issues.

        If you felt compelled to send your congress-person a letter, then it was because the issue was important to you, and you didn't trust their judgement on the matter enough to not explicitly voice your opinion in an attempt to sway their judgement from what you expected it to be, instead of what you wanted it to be.

        Do you really want to reelect someone whose judgement you don't trust?

        Do you really want to reelect someone whose judgement is so fickle that a letter-writing campaing can effect it?

        No matter how you look at it, the congressperson with the most letters should probably not be reelecte.

        Perhaps you can deal with galvanizing issues by having a +1 on one side and a -1 on the other, and taking the absolute value. However, if those issues are truly galvanizing, then they should result in the same level of interest, generally, meaning it's a wash: a rising tide lifts all boats, so a congressperson need not fear a galvanizing issue will lif their head up for the chop.

        It still looks like a workable approach to me...

        -- Terry
        • You elect someone for their judgement, not their positions on particular issues.

          Ideally that would be the case, but judgment is a rather difficult quality to gauge. More often than not it is their position on particular issues that gets them elected, good judgment or otherwise.

          One way or another, through primaries, lack of interest, or whathaveyou, you're left with two or three candidates on the final ballot. If I'm presented with the option of voting for a candidate whose platform is largely in-line with my political beliefs vs. one who is antithetical, even if the latter may be someone with "better judgment" I'm still not likely to vote for them. I don't want a jackbooted fascist with good judgment representing me.
          • In most people's minds, "good judgement" means "if given the same set of facts, the other person would come to the same conclusion or make the same decision I would".

            So unless you are a "jackbooted fascist", you aren't going to elect one based on them having "good judgement".

            -- Terry
    • 1. Get your stupid idea approved
      2. Sign them up on every spam list known to man
      3. They don't get reelected
      4. ???
      5. Profit

      Kjella
      • What part of "a unique email count" don't you understand?

        If implemented correctly, the system could not be influenced by SPAM.

        In any case, it's not going to change the Democrat/Republican voter ratio, so getting rid of one Democrat won't achieve anything except getting a different Democrat in power, if you live in a predominantly Democrat district. The converse is true for a predominantly Republican district.

        Only an idiot would rotor through opposition candidates this way: "better the evil you know".

        -- Terry
  • I often send e-mail to my congresscritters, and I always include my name address and phone number. I do get replies via snail mail on a regular basis.

    Of course I've often wondered how a donation from a California movie studio, or a German record label gets into my Congressmans account if he doesn't take calls from non-constituents. They use the excuse "Well I'm on such and such commitee and that's a national thing". Well Mr Hand out for Donations, how come you will take a donation from California but won't respond to a letter or e-mail from there? Or respond to a music lover in Germany?
  • by EconomyGuy ( 179008 ) on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @03:32AM (#4271451) Homepage
    I just completed a 10 week internship in a Congressional office where they found my technically savvy to be of a great deal of use to their office. They had we working on website and streamlining their mail system after just a couple of weeks on the job. So, here are my couple of observations from those weeks.

    1) e-mails are just as important as phone calls. An office gets a phone call with someone saying "I opposed issue X", they tell that person they will "pass the comment on to the Congressperson" and if your lucky, they will tally the support on a sheet. The same goes with e-mail, except that you get a nice little letter that will actually explain the Congresspersons position. Granted it will be form letter, but it usually is enough to know where the rep stands.

    2) being a constituent is EVERYTHING. Most offices in the House use something call "IQ", an awful little program written to make full use of IE activeX capabilities. IQ, for all of its failings, has an incredible address checker, and can determine if a letter is from the within their district or not. But you have to get the address to them in the right format, which means using their webform submissions... NO public e-mails.

    3) I really can't stress this point enough... a constituent is a constituent, whether it be phone, fax, mail, or carrier pigeon. Any office that wants to be reelected gives every piece the same effort, because people who write are people who vote. The best way to be ignored is to say "if I e-mail it will just be processed by some staffer, so I won't bother." Everything is processed by a staffer (unless you're a personal friend), so get out their and send an e-mail. Personalize it if you wish, but it really doesn't matter... they just want to know who you are and what you think your representatives stance on the issues ought to be. Never forget, these people pay money for polling data that you are giving them for free. They are happy to receive it.

    I hope this helps a bit in everyones political adventures.
  • I thought the headline said Handling Evil Overlord in Congress and figured they finally found a way to get at Bill... Scary.
  • E-mail to Congressmen and Senators can be lost in the shuffle, or deleted very easily. Send a fax. A hard copy is harder to lose , and harder to ignore.
  • by bmasel ( 129946 ) <`bmasel' `at' `tds.net'> on Tuesday September 17, 2002 @10:55AM (#4273198) Journal
    Go to a campaign appearance by your Rep. Find out the name of the aide who handles the issues you're interested in. Email directly to this aide. The format is firstname.lastname@mail.house.gov

  • 13 stripes first one is red, the last one is red.

    get it freakin' right.

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