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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Get Through To a Politician By E-mail? 204

Posted by timothy
from the breaking-through-the-sea-of-spam dept.
wytcld writes "Sending an individually-written e-mail to my state senator resulted in an automated response saying that since she receives hundreds of e-mails a day, there might be no personal response, but please don't take that to mean she hasn't read my e-mail. So I contacted her again suggesting that was a pretty poor answer. Most of the e-mails she receives are mass mailings coordinated by various interest group websites. Why doesn't she put those to the side, I asked, and prioritize response to individual e-mails from constituents who've taken the time to actually write? Her response? She often can't tell the difference at first, so spends time drafting responses to the first instances of group e-mail spam, and gets diverted from responding to those who really write her. Are there tools out there which a politician can use to identify the incoming group-think blasts and put them to to side? It's easy enough to imagine sorting by repeated content or headers, if I ran the mail server, but I'm looking for packages already out there that a state-level representative, with no staff to speak of, might use to cut through the mess and prioritize communication with constituents who care enough about an issue to draft their own thoughts."
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Ask Slashdot: How Can I Get Through To a Politician By E-mail?

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  • Paper and Pen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 21, 2012 @01:22PM (#39756815)

    These two devices solve literally every problem you are trying to solve.

    • by davester666 (731373) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @01:49PM (#39757037) Journal

      ...hold the paper against the person, then quickly stab through the paper with the pen

      The paper acts as a shield to prevent blood getting on you.

    • Re:Paper and Pen (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Saturday April 21, 2012 @01:55PM (#39757055)

      This does have a much higher probability of working than email does, but it only works with politicians below a certain level of prominence. You can definitely reach your small-town mayor by sending a letter by mail, and may be able to reach a mid-sized city mayor, state congressperson, maybe even your U.S. congressperson.

      Sending a letter stops working once you're talking about writing to your governor, a senator, the president, the secretary of state, etc., though. They have people open and read their mail for them, and it mostly just gets sorted into the appropriate tally marks (we received n++ letters against the Foo Bill, next).

      • Maybe things in Washington state are different but even our senators reply to written mail.

        Maybe not to the President, for all of your elected officials below him it does seem to work.

        • by Fjandr (66656)

          Cathy McMorris Rodgers doesn't (Representative; not even a Senator), at least not in a form bearing more than the slightest resemblance to the content of the letter.

          Her offices send back position pieces which address the topic, at best, in the most general of terms, but make clear that the person drafting the response did no more than skim the letter for key terms.

          • by wisty (1335733)

            So treat it like a school / uni essay. You know the "marker" will spend ~30 seconds reading it, so make sure it's "well structured", so a busy reader can get the gist of your argument with next to no effort..

            But make sure it's well padded, so they know you put some effort in.

            See, school has been useful. It's taught you how to "communicate"!

        • by icebike (68054) *

          Maybe they do, and maybe they don't. And maybe you mistook the cleverly worded form letter for something personal.

          My experience with Washington State is that big campaign contributors get their letters read at a higher rate than Joe Voter.

      • Sending a letter stops working once you're talking about writing to your governor, a senator, the president, the secretary of state, etc., though. They have people open and read their mail for them, and it mostly just gets sorted into the appropriate tally marks (we received n++ letters against the Foo Bill, next).

        It sounds like what these guys need is a simple website capability, easily feasible in something like Drupal, that would enable users to click for or against an issue. In addition to cutting down on spam, it would enable constituents to immediately see how much activity there has been on an issue. You could even do a Facebook-style "Like", or enable constituents to Tweet their feedback. And if there's no API, it makes it more difficult to mass-spam the feature.

        Seems to me they get a lot of spam because e

        • by bryan1945 (301828)

          Which would be overwhelmed by bots in about 2 days. Nice idea, but the only way to have an "accurate" count is to make people have verified registration. And by verified I mean proving somehow they are a constituent, not just some usual form + email address. Even just the form registration is going to turn most people off.
          -------------

          Now if you really want to get your rep's attention, send a singing telegram. I suggest the gorilla one or the sexy babe one for male reps.

          • That makes sense. A good workaround might be a Javascript CAPTCHA-like element; I'm not sure how advanced the anti-CAPTCHA technology has gotten yet.

            If the male representative you're telegramming is an older "fundamentalist" conservative, you might get better results with a Chippendale.

      • by kbielefe (606566)

        I've received obviously personalized replies from Senator Kyl's office on multiple occasions. He happened to be my own senator, but that's not bad for the #2 republican in the Senate, even if it was just a staff member composing the letter. The president I've never gotten more than a form letter and a Christmas card. Other representatives are somewhere in between.

        The trick is not to write on the night before a vote, but to write when a bill for their committee just got introduced, when they still have tim

    • When the staffers (or politician themselves) recognize you as someone involved in the community, it's very easy to get a word to the politicians. Go to events and bend their ear about your issue when the time is right, but not in front of the camera, and know who's on which committee... If it's in their portfolio they'll be much more interested.

      I talk to my MLA (like state congressman) and the MLA from the next riding over and my MP (like federal congressman) about issues several times a year. Under a previ

    • These two devices solve literally every problem you are trying to solve.

      Exactly.

      From the article: "Why doesn't she put those to the side, I asked, and prioritize response to individual e-mails from constituents who've taken the time to actually write?" The truth of the matter is that sending an email is *not* considered taking the time to *write*, and there is some truth to this perspective. An email is far more convenient than a handwritten letter.

      Correspondence gets ranked according to the medium used and level of personalization:
      Personal handwritten letter (most highl

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        You can bump your pen & paper letter even higher up the list if you include a "campaign contribution" check with your letter.

    • by matunos (1587263)

      If you include a check, it'll help your chances even more.

    • Re:Paper and Pen (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @02:39PM (#39757377)

      Yep. Send an actual physical letter, or try a phone call.

      Or, better yet, if you have a major complaint about a topical issue that's in the news, write something good and send it to your local newspaper as a Letter to the Editor.

      I mostly received form letters in response to most queries I made, but a couple times when my letter to the local paper was published, I got personalized letters dealing with details of the specific issue from both my local state senator and my U.S. Congressman sent to me in response.

      The more public the method of communication, the more likely you'll get a response. And choose a method that is less likely for thousands of other people to use.

      The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    • by matunos (1587263)

      Politicians get large amounts of email, and they have no way of knowing if it's from their constituents. A letter with a return address showing you're a constituent has a much better chance of being read.

      But keep in mind that you're not the only constituent. If you want to ensure you get personal attention directly from your politician in a timely manner, open your checkbook and get some facetime with her.

    • These two devices solve literally every problem you are trying to solve.

      Then by that reasoning, chiseled stone tablets ought to carry a lot more weight!

    • by MarcQuadra (129430) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @05:08PM (#39758291)

      I've had much better luck finding out where they hang out (bars, usually) after a session, then I bring them a small check, made out to their campaign. Once that happens, they usually give you their -real- email address or phone number.

      I bought a state rep about $50 in drinks one night, cut him a check the next day, and my ideas on Net Metering made it into the next revision of the bill. I did the same for a city councilman, who is now using a few of my ideas to save money.

      The great thing about contribution limits, which are usually under $1,000 per-contributor, is that you get a lot of bang-for-your-buck for a $100 or $200 contribution.

    • As long as your handwriting resembles the Latin alphabet, of course.

  • by hsmith (818216) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @01:23PM (#39756835)
    And they will respond to your questions.
    • The idea of attaching something that costs you something is actually a good idea. As slashdot knows, the only viable (but impossible to implement) cure for spam would be to require postage charges on all e-mail. But in this case it is possible to implement. here's two possible suggestions
      1) send a dollar. the dollar does not need to go to the congressman, but instead could go to general revenues or perhaps a reserve for general capitol hill IT support.

      2) certify your e-mail address with a trusted proxy

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 21, 2012 @02:15PM (#39757179)

      Politicians respond to their constituents.

      Please note "constituent" rarely equals "citizen" or "voter" in that politician's district.

      True story: Shortly before this country was misled into a disastrous, expensive, deadly, and illegal adventurism, I called the local office of my US Representative. A human-like organism answered the phone and quietly operated the device after asking a few questions to identify me. I gave several reasons why my country should not engage in the seemingly inevitable but completely optional upcoming disaster. When I finished talking, it thanked me.

      Shortly, I received a form letter
      a) thanking me for expressing my opinion,
      b) excusing the politician from giving a personal response because he receives so very many letters and calls,
      c) acknowledging that many people have strong opinions about war,
      d) explaining, in high political speak, that he didn't give a shit about what the little people thought and was proud to stand with his President.

  • Phone (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thestuckmud (955767) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @01:28PM (#39756867)
    Many politicians are overwhelmed by email campaigns at the moment, and are paying more attention to phone calls. At least that's what my politically connected friends tell me.
  • She could be smart, and just copy/paste the draft she JUST wrote for all the other mass mailings she gets. That way, she has an answer to them, AND has time to answer individual email...
  • The Obama adminstration actually solves this problem, as I understand it. Here's what I know about their process :
    1. Somehow they filter the spawn and mass mailings
    2. A group of staffers actually DO read and respond to every email message with a reasoned reply taken from some kind of script consistent with Obama's position.
    3. A small number of these messages are printed out and the President does read this. I think they are chosen randomly or perhaps a single

  • Use conventional snail-mail. Make it obvious it is not a mass-mailing. Then you have a good chance that at least a staffer will read it. Really quite obvious. This is one area where the spammer scum have ruined email.

    • Re:Forget it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dwye (1127395) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @02:07PM (#39757133)

      This is one area where the spammer scum have ruined email.

      Actually, this was ruined for email before there even WAS email. Robert Heinlein wrote a short book on how to influence politicians, and he laid out all the steps. Basically, the less you care, the less they care, so in the "good old days" a telegram beat a hand-written note, which beat a typed note; signing a petition or sending a pre-written message just makes the signer feel good, but these are completely ignored. An email is almost identical to the pre-written message that some group wants everyone to sign and send in; at best it is the typed message, except that you haven't bothered to expend your precious toner on it.

      Secondly, if you belong to an ORGANIZED group, mention it. Even better if you are an officer of it, and mention that. Even a Ladies Sewing Circle member beats the lone crank; the member can convince her group to vote her way, while the lone writer cannot convince anyone.

      Seriously, people, this stuff is obvious if you think about it.

  • They have their official politician email address that you used, and that is it. If you want a personal response from your politician, you need to contact their staff and see if you can arrange to meet them in person. In fact, there are generally rules prohibiting politicians from using other email addresses for official business (remember the Bush white house lost GOP email controversy?)
  • I know it doesn't fulfill the criterion of helping a politician manage her email but, in terms of "getting through" to politicians, the MPs in the UK with whom I've spoken have said that they treat written correspondence with the following priority (low to, well, not so low):

    • mass / cut and paste email
    • individually written email
    • typed letter
    • handwritten letter

    These were casual conversations, rather than anything official, and were with only three (then) MPs, but it seems that, for real reaction, the effort

  • If naked I am sure someone will knock on your door.
  • If you want to get through to your local politician, show up at their district office. If you care enough to go to their office, you'll at least get a few minutes with a staff person.

    Politicians do get tons of emails, and it is functionally impossible to tell the difference between a constituent sending an individual e-mail on their own and a constituent paid to send an individual e-mail.

    I've visited my representatives many times, sent individual emails and been part of organized lobbying efforts. The mor

    • Keep in mind that in many states a state-level pol won't have a district office.

      In Michigan it is illegal for a State-level politician to spend public money anywhere but his Lansing office. The Lansing office budget is quite limited, so that very few of the 148 State Legislators even try to have anything resembling a District Office. The only one I ever saw who got around it was Steve Tobocman, who borrowed space from a friend on the County Commission (Ilona Varga, who was coincidentally also the only Count

      • by Goldsmith (561202)

        That is interesting. In California most of the (good) politicians have a local office. If the choice is travel to the capital or e-mail, you're in a tough spot to actually use the government properly.

  • Write your letter on a computer. Print it out. Sign it with blue ink. Then fold the letter carefully, and mail it via registered mail. Make sure you have your contact details like your email address in the top part of the letter. Chances of your letter being read are now dramatically better than if writing an email. Remember that these people get hundreds of thousands of emails a day. And that only a few - maybe with a heading that stands out from the crowd - actually get read. Good luck.
  • Email to most State politicians is pointless. Between Nigerian scammers, interest groups, astroturfing, spam, automated "news alerts" from whoever, links to blogs, etc., the signal gets lost in the noise. Send a fax or a letter instead, that way an actual person will read your correspondence and appropriately categorize it. Or try calling them.

    Case example: in the early to mid 2000's, my State Senator turned Congressional representative, Jackie Speier (D--Hillsborough, CA), was very responsive to actual

  • ...I see a problem with filtering email that you may not have noticed.

    Let's ignore all of the cynical "people who only communicate by email don't deserve to have a voice in government" responses and assume that email in itself is fine, it just depends on whether or not the email in question is a robocall. The problem here is that it's not a binary question. The interest groups I'm familiar with allow part or all of the email to be personalized; for example, a mass email protesting attacks on women's right

  • I found it took almost exactly 48 hours from the time I pressed send and when he would be on tv using the sound bite I sent him. It's really easy to do if ya rite good.
  • by retroworks (652802) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @01:43PM (#39756991) Homepage Journal
    In Vermont, you can reach your senators just by shouting loudly enough. In Wyoming, they use smoke signals.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @01:46PM (#39757009)

    There are a few simple steps you can take to guarantee your email will stand out above the background noise...

    1) Greet her by her full name - if you can do the research to find some endearing nickname only used by her friends, so much the better!

    2) Mention the names of her husband and kids - show you're not like the other constituents. YOU take the time to get to know her!

    3) Include photo attachments of her house (both in Washington and in your home state), her car, and her husband's car - again, this shows you care about this communication enough to put some time into learning more about her!

    4) Describe, specifically and in the strongest terms possible, the issue you care about - getting to know her is nice, but don't let your message get lost in all the friendly banter!

    5) In closing, be friendly! Mention that she or her family might run into you sometime!

    6) (optional) If you can get hold of her personal cell phone number, follow up a few times with friendly phone calls! Script them, though - be sure to follow the steps I've listed above. But remember, she's a busy person; so call when she's more likely to be free - late at night is best.

    • by phorest (877315)
      Stalk much?
    • by swillden (191260)
      If you really want to show that you've taken the time to get to know her, you should also include photos of her husband, children and other relatives taken while they're going to work, school, or other routine daily activities. Emphasis on "routine", stuff they do every day, consistently. There's no need to hassle them, just use a long-range lens and snap a few pics from your car. She'll recognize that the photos were taken by someone unobserved and appreciate your thoughtfulness.
    • by PaddyM (45763)

      When you're making friends, at the ATM, do the creep! do the creep

  • technology: procmail (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Shouldn't be too hard to figure out who the interest groups are, then dump them in a separate folder. Possibly for a hapless intern to get frustrated with writing summaries thereof. Really now, people who put themselves in positions where efficient communications handling is essential should have the skills, though most don't even know what a header is nevermind not to top-post. Time to learn, buncha slackers.

    Anyway, procmail is just one way. SIEVE support on your IMAP server would be another. Plenty mail c

    • by Sipper (462582)

      IMHO it only works if it's "dead simple" to use -- and my experience is that very few non-techies learn to do any of this. [Even many techies don't!]

      Shouldn't be too hard to figure out who the interest groups are, then dump them in a separate folder.

      ...

      Anyway, procmail is just one way. SIEVE support on your IMAP server would be another. Plenty mail clients have custom filtering, there exist toolsets to run commands on an imap, again possibly in conjunction with procmail, and maybe there already exists a GUI to ease such use for the lesser educatable beings among us, or else it is easily whipped up.

      If rules won't do, then train a bayes filter (like spamassassin) on an interest group mass-mailings set and have it dump them in a separate (non-spam) folder. You can use the same technology for multiple targets, not just spam/non-spam.

      ...

      Work this out and offer your services to your representatives, for a modest fee. Should be a nice weekend-earner. Royalties to the usual address please.

      Having done this for a long time, here are a couple of problems I see with the idea:
      - Most people don't know how to read email headers, which makes making filter rules for them more difficult.
      [Filtering on Subject: or From: really doesn't work.]
      - Email headers are stripped in a forward or

    • Shouldn't be too hard to figure out who the interest groups are, then dump them in a separate folder. Possibly for a hapless intern to get frustrated with writing summaries thereof. Really now, people who put themselves in positions where efficient communications handling is essential should have the skills, though most don't even know what a header is nevermind not to top-post. Time to learn, buncha slackers.

      Anyway, procmail is just one way. SIEVE support on your IMAP server would be another. Plenty mail clients have custom filtering, there exist toolsets to run commands on an imap, again possibly in conjunction with procmail, and maybe there already exists a GUI to ease such use for the lesser educatable beings among us, or else it is easily whipped up.

      If rules won't do, then train a bayes filter (like spamassassin) on an interest group mass-mailings set and have it dump them in a separate (non-spam) folder. You can use the same technology for multiple targets, not just spam/non-spam. I haven't actually tried but it shouldn't be too hard to adapt, the idea is the same.

      Work this out and offer your services to your representatives, for a modest fee. Should be a nice weekend-earner. Royalties to the usual address please.

      Lazlo? Lazlo Hollyfeld? Is that you? [imdb.com]

  • How Can I Get Through To a Politician By E-mail?

    Print it out and enclose a check for $250,000.

    • by jfengel (409917)

      You need to ensure that the check is written to their Super PAC, rather than to the candidate or to their campaign committee. The politician him/herself is forbidden from taking more than token gifts (under $20, IIRC). The campaign committee is limited by the FEC to $2,500 (though you can donate twice, once for the "primaries" (even if they are incumbent and face no opponent) and again for the general election.

      Checks bigger than the limits get returned. You can, however, dump as much money as you like into

      • by PopeRatzo (965947)

        You need to ensure that the check is written to their Super PAC, rather than to the candidate or to their campaign committee.

        Nah. The five fascist Supreme Court justices who thought Citizens United was a great improvement to the US Constitution will never uphold any law which restricts corporate money in elections, so as long as you're a registered corporation, you can give money to whomever you want with impunity and do it anonymously.

        What I'm waiting for is some billionaire (or maybe two billionaire bro

        • The only hope to maintain a democratic republic is to pass a constitutional amendment saying that only human beings have individual human rights. All you'd have to do is change "persons" to "natural persons" a few places in the constitution and we guarantee at least the possibility of something like democratic institutions.

          Umm, the text of the First Amendment:

          Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

          I don't see "person" or "persons" mentioned anywhere regarding religion or speech or the press. It's just that Congress shouldn't make laws restricting these rights: the Constitution actually doesn't specify who has them. The idea that groups of people somehow didn't have these rights before is just not in the text. "The people" get the right to assemble and petition, and since these are both rights that actually only make sense in a group, it hardly makes sense to re

        • Oh, and by the way, I agree with you that money is not "speech." That's the real problem.

          On the other hand, no lawyers on either side in the Citizens United case tried to argue that corporations don't have free speech. Of course they do. All the assertions to the contrary about "natural persons" and whatever are just propaganda spun by people who don't have a clue about the law and were upset that they lost the case.

          The question argued by the lawyers in the case was whether the restrictions on speech

  • This is quite possibly the most important piece of information in your question. Most states have totally non-professional legislatures. This means that even Senators have a single, part-time staffer, and are supposed to have full-time jobs. Many states are proud of this, so if you're in TX or NH you're just screwed. Cali, NY, and my home-state of Michigan aren't that bad; but most states are officially still of the opinion that the best way to avoid tyranny is bar Legislators from working more then 20 hour

  • Include a large donation with it. If not, forget it, they don't care.

  • In order to do that you will have to clean his tubes first ... then he'll probably give you his disposable cell phone number anyway, making the e-mail somewhat pointless.
  • As noted, emails are essentially worthless to representatives. PCATt [qdap.net] attempts to address this, but it's basically an academic data/response coding system being shoe-horned into a general purpose product. PCAT doesn't get that legislative staffers are not research assistants. It might work within some major bureaucracies that have departments dedicated to handling public requests (like FOIA) or lots of solicitations for public comment (like the FCC) but it's waaaaay to complicated for occasional use.

    I thi

    • by fsterman (519061)

      And I would like to add that you shouldn't bother going to speak with the rep unless you are trying to inform them about a topic. Going there to change their mind on an issue is generally a fool's errand. Telling them that cutting education is a bad idea or pitching a new legislative strategy isn't worth anyone's time: they do this for a living, their position has been formed by hundreds of hours of wrestling with the issue.

      There is a big difference between explaining why they are unable to legislate file

  • Yesterday, I sent in a letter to Wally Herger, who is the Representative for my district. I spoke with the secretary, and informed her that I wanted to send in a thought-out letter. She directed me to their web site, which, as it turns out, was broken (404 after clicking "submit"). Of course, such a submission would likely not be taken note of, but I suspect that telling the person it's coming, and your own email address can help.

    Ultimately, though, I ended up asking how to send it in, since email was broke

  • So I contacted her again suggesting that was a pretty poor answer. [...] Her response?

    So, you sent her an email that resulted in a form response, then you contacted her again through unspecified means and she responded personally to your complaint.

    And you're asking for help with what, exactly?

    • So I contacted her again suggesting that was a pretty poor answer. [...] Her response?

      So, you sent her an email that resulted in a form response, then you contacted her again through unspecified means and she responded personally to your complaint.

      And you're asking for help with what, exactly?

      I think you stopped reading the summary too soon.

      "Are there tools out there which a politician can use to identify the incoming group-think blasts and put them to to side? . . . I'm looking for packages already out there that a state-level representative . . . might use to cut through the mess and prioritize communication with constituents who care enough about an issue to draft their own thoughts."

      • by matunos (1587263)

        No I read it, but it sounds like a solution in search of a problem. He communicated with his representative. Now he wants to do what? Offer her unsolicited IT support so he can email her more?

        The constituents who "care enough to about an issue to draft their own thoughts" will care enough to use the same channels of communication as he did to reach her.

  • From the perspective of a constituent, the question doesn't make as much sense, or the idea just seems futile and impractical. From the perspective of the representative it makes much more sense.

    How can I, as a representative, sort my email to better identify relevant and actual constituent messages?

    Maybe bayesian filtering. The bayesian filters that people use for sorting spam are often actually general purpose with regards to the quality you are judging your messages by. People are saying "spam" or "no

    • by PPH (736903)

      My next business plan:

      • 1. Build a system capable of generating language based on a semantic input (to define the desired message) plus a grammatical model and vocabulary with suitable randomization.
      • 2. Offer my services to spam e-mailers, political action groups and anyone else wanting to get through Bayesian filtering.
      • 3. ????
      • 4. Profit!
  • The core technologies for organizing such emails are available in the litigation support industry -- they are used to group related documents/emails together so that lawyers reviewing documents to hunt for evidence can do so more efficiently. One approach is to group "near-duplicates," where documents that share some chunks of text are grouped, which allows detection of form letters or different revisions of the same document. Another option is "conceptual clustering," where the documents are grouped if t

  • attach some child porn to your email
  • There, fixed it for you.
  • Visit. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by daemonenwind (178848) on Saturday April 21, 2012 @03:30PM (#39757737)

    Your problem is that you're engaged in insanity. Meaning, you keep doing the same thing while expecting a different result.

    Why does it have to be email? You want to have an impact, but everyone has to come to you?
    Fuck off. Seriously. You're not so important that your electronic musings should get special routing - and, if you check all the misguided posts about donations and big-money special interests, you'll see that they're all focused on making you important.

    Your problem isn't importance. Which is why I call those other posts misguided. This isn't even a national figure you're talking about, it's a state-level politician. So, as a voting (you do vote, right?) constituent, you're actually important enough. You just can't expect every representative you have to come to your doorstep at a time convenient to you and ask what you want or somehow magically know it's YOU with an Original Thought. That, my friend, is your problem.

    If the issue is important to you, take a day off and visit their office. They all have one, and it can't be all that far away if it's in-state. Talk to a staffer; they'll write down your name, address and concerns. If you're in their district, it WILL be seen. Or, if you call ahead, you might just be able to come at a time when your representative can actually sit down and talk to you. Or hell, offer to buy a drink after legislative hours. That is a human being in that office, you know; that sort of thing tends to work with people.

    The big problem here is that, much like the occupy retards, you're not willing to get off your ass and engage the system. You expect the system to come to you and listen while you whine. That doesn't work for anything, anywhere. Wait for a town hall meeting and cuss at the microphone with the other cranks.

    • by wytcld (179112)

      Jesus H. I ask about software solutions that a state senator, who here in Vermont has no staff at all other than some shared staffers who help the senate function when in session, might implement. A software solution to sorting individual e-mails from canned ones. Yes, why shouldn't we have the efficiency of email here? And no, she does not have a legislative office. I'm in Vermont. It's a citizen legislature. And yes, I know her socially. But not so closely I can just drop in on her home. She told me perso

  • 1) be filthy rich
    2) start your own SuperPAC

    Complete those steps and I guarantee your email will get their complete attention.

  • I don't know about US-ians, but I'm typically able to just send an email off to my elected Irish representatives and I'm pretty sure they actually read it as I have actually received personally written replies back from the representatives in question. This includes senior Ministers. And no, I haven't sent off that many emails. I might average one every two months or so.

    By the way, I've also had occasion over the years to send email to two MPs in the UK. One responded personally, and the other was responded

  • I must agree with those who suggest "pen and paper", although I use my computer to compose and print my letters. I try to limit my letters to a single page. Sometimes, I even use a postcard. The shorter the content, the more likely it will be read completely.

    For members of Congress -- both senators and representatives -- letters should generally be sent to their home-state offices and not to their offices in Washington. Since 9/11, letters sent to Congressional offices in Washington are delayed as much

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 21, 2012 @03:58PM (#39757913)

    ...I have a few tips.

    1) We deal with crazy... a lot of it. Everybody who has an really angry, strong opinion about matters of public importance is reaching for the phone and calling, or cranking out an email whenever they can. Remember that if the issue you're calling/writing/faxing/emailing about is a hot issue, chances are people on all sides of it are calling to yell at us a lot. We end up having to filter out a lot of emotion and anger to get to what people's truly legitimate concerns are.

    2) Make sure that you are contacting the right jurisdiction. I work for a local government of a large city. I cannot help you get federal law changed, or tell the governor to sign a bill. Stop asking, you're wasting both of our time. Also, I really don't care how outraged you are about the actions of the other government. If you're outraged with the one I work for, I'm happy to talk about it. Otherwise, sorry, not going to give you much time.

    3) When you're sitting down to draft your correspondence, please try to focus on relevant info, clearly identify a solvable problem, and recommend a solution that you think will work. In this case, the poster is contacting a state legislator; there are three different types of communication that that office will receive: opinions, recommendations and requests for help.

    3a) If your contact is an opinion, those are the highest volume and lowest priority communications for a response. Opinions are great and help the elected get a sense for where their constituents are at politically and help them gain a more complete view if the impact of their vote on bills. If you're writing to say, "please vote NO on SB 999," great, you're added to the list of "Community NOs" and you're a statistic on a report, but you're unlikely to get much more than an automated response or a form letter.

    3b) If your contact is a recommendation, find out what staff member handles that issue for the elected. Contact the staff member directly. Call the capitol office, a receptionist will answer. The receptionist fields phone calls and will have a list of all the issue areas (Transportation, Judiciary, Utilities) that staff electeds are assigned to. Say these magic words, "Hi, I'm a constituent for Senator X and I have some thoughts on a bill, can you please tell me who staffs the Senator on Transportation? What is their email address?"

    Write your email to this person and open up a dialog. If you don't get a response back, call them and ask to speak to them, at least confirm if you got your message. Be specific. "I read some information about SB 999 and I think that Section 333 of the bill will cause problems for me and my family," or "I received a postcard about SB 999 and I don't like the part that requires me to file with Agency Z every time I want to build widget X." I like to follow up substantive emails with a phone call, and then follow the call up with an email to summarize and conclude the conversation. I'm more diligent than other staff members, but when I have someone who is trying to make a contribution to the process, I at least like to hear them out, even if I don't agree. Don't be afraid to debate, don't be the aggressor. If the staff member is being hostile, just ask that they pass your message along to the elected.

    3c) If your communication is a request for help, call the field office. They've dealt with it all and know whether and how they can help. Emailing is not helpful when you're making a first contact, start with a call and then follow up with emails.

    4) Be nice. Your first line of communication is not with the elected or the "gov'ment" but with human beings with stresses and lives and feelings and you should treat them with the same respect that you would expect if some random stranger was calling you or writing you out of nowhere asking for things.

  • You Can't (Score:2, Informative)

    by morari (1080535)

    You can't get through to a politician, regardless or method. Stop writing letters and start rioting. Nothing is ever achieved by working within the confines of the system.

  • I have sent emails and occasionally even letters or faxes to my representative and Senators. The trouble is that they typically don't give a shit what I think unless I agree with them[1]. I'm sure it's a side effect of having liberal tendencies in an appallingly conservative area (this used to be Roy Blunt's district), but it is still difficult to make a dent.

    [1] The things I generally write them about are civil liberties issues like SOPA/PIPA, the Unpatriotic Act, &c.

  • by sjames (1099)

    The 'incoming group-think blasts' are legitimate expressions of the people's will. I suppose the best way to manage those would be to actually engage the advocacy groups and work out a better way to communicate in aggregate. Those groups do the communication that way in the fiorst place because constituant communications tend to be ignored unless it comes in in great bulk.

    I don't know about your Senator (or even who she is), but often enough, even hand-written dead tree mail gets a generic form letter.

  • I really think the quality of Ask Slashdot stories has declined a great deal. Lately they all have the following format.

    Dear Slashdot I have this problem foo, for which I have already identified the solution. The solution is bar. The trouble is that I don't like bar, how can I alter reality to suit my personal preferences?

    The result is then we all post talking around the problem because there is no answer other than the one already given. A more interesting discussion starter on this subject might have

  • Pen and paper, combined with relentless phone calls will eventually get you the contact you seek.
  • You can't "get through" to a politician in the US higher than your local city council.

    They have become supremely isolated to any individuals issues. They simply don't have to care to get re-elected, so why should they? They have a good thing going, from their perspective. People even still think it's respectable - at least, respectable enough to continue *paying for*.

  • A paper letter is usually best. It gets through the noise of the email that's sent. After you send the letter follow up with a phone call. No email.

    You could send a letter requesting a meeting in person. If it's a local or state politician you have a chance of meeting them. And even the federal politicians still hold events in their states to press the flesh.
  • seriously.

    then he'll read it.

    but really, if there were a trick to get your email read by a congress member and all 1000+ slashdotters who wanted to use it did it.. the trick would vanish.

  • Nothing grabs a politician's attention like a donation. Attach a note to that PayPal email and state your request.
  • I'm talking US mail. Snail mail. Like "write a well-written letter and put it in an envelope and apply address and postage and dust off the mailbox and use it for outbound mail" mail.

    If you're feeling that persistent, send them one copy of the same letter per day, for ten days, or until you get a response. Which ever comes first. Make it clear in your letter that you'll do this until you get an answer, expect delays in cessation, blah blah blah. Doesn't need to be more than one per day, because if you

Put no trust in cryptic comments.

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