Sunday, November 5, 2006
At this time of year, political professionals such as myself are inundated with complaints about campaign tactics. And "robo-dialing" is almost everyone's favorite punching bag.
Having worked on a number of campaigns around the country, I am aware that people are annoyed by robo-dials and perceive them as a waste of time and effort. But such arguments betray a lack of serious consideration of the reason they are used and of the larger principles they represent.
Robo-dials serve an important purpose in modern political campaigns. In the highly contested 2004 presidential election, just 60 percent of the registered voters in this country went to the polls. In the Sept. 12 D.C. primary, only 34 percent voted, and in the same day's Maryland primary just 30 percent did.
We owe it to ourselves as citizens of a representative democracy to improve upon those numbers and to involve as many people as possible. Robo-dials have been known to dramatically increase voter turnout.
In this age of money-dominated politics, robo-dials are also a cheap, reliable way for a campaign to get its message out and organize its supporters. As one who has helped manage Democratic campaigns in Ohio, Virginia, New York and elsewhere, I have seen firsthand the value of robo-dials to a small campaign that needs to talk to voters.
Robo-dials can be inconvenient, and I know there are times when mistakes are made and your phone rings at a strange time, but typically these calls take 30 seconds, and they represent the freedom of speech that our country was founded on. They enable the delivery of a targeted message quickly and often leave the listener better informed than he or she was before the call. I have personally used robo-dials to notify people about town hall meetings, about the need to deliver yard signs to supporters and about the need to provide voters rides to polling places.
So, before getting too upset about the robo-dials that you are no doubt being bombarded with this weekend, think about what they are: a political campaign spending a small amount of money to use one of the few mass-education tactics available to reach out to you and get (or keep) you involved in the electoral process.
Instead of hanging up on the call, realize that this is American democracy in action and that there is nothing wrong with an automated call requesting that you participate. After all, many sacrifices have been made over the course of American history to preserve our right to vote. A phone call or two reminding us to exercise that right is certainly something we can all live with.
-- Andrew Kayton
The writer is an account manager at the Mack-Crounse Group, a Democratic political consulting firm in Alexandria. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .