Political campaign robocalls: Mosquitoes of election season

by | Feb 14, 2008

It happened last night, at seven minutes before seven o’clock.

Amy and I were savoring our dinner of Cranberry-Pear Chicken (we added fresh thyme), steamed asparagus and a cheap Zinfandel, and we were engrossed in Casino Royale, watching James Bond playing high-stakes Texas hold ’em in Montenegro. We were enjoying our first moments together in a day that had begun at 4:50 a.m.

Then the phone rang. I paused the movie, and Amy got up to answer it. It was Wisconsin for Hillary, pitching us via recorded message.

We are well aware that there is a primary on Tuesday, and we know that Hillary Clinton is on the ballot. Anyone who does not is probably in some sort of vegetative state. We have watched most of the debates, and hours upon hours of political coverage. We even read. The idea that an automated, prerecorded phone call would persuade us to vote for any candidate is downright insulting, and the fact that it interrupted our dinner and our movie is just plain annoying.

Of course, this sort of thing happens over and over as each election day nears. The prerecorded calls from the hopefuls (and the officials and celebrities supporting them) begin to teem like mosquitoes at dusk, with the same aggravating effect. Add to this the zealous pollsters on top of the constant background of news coverage, junk mail, and political advertisements, and you have the cacophony of insincerity that makes many people opt out of the election process altogether.

If something were being sold, a prerecorded call such as this would be illegal under Wisconsin statutes. There is a Wisconsin No Call List and National Do Not Call Registry to block telemarketing. Such legislation has been extremely popular, and politicians know it.

Conveniently, political calls are not covered by these measures, but now it looks like states may be on the way to eliminating robocalls, and there already is a voluntary opt-out list at StopPoliticalCalls.org that also attempts to stop the madness.

Good riddance. Not only are these calls a disrespectful way to seek support, they have also been used by opponents to irritate voters away from a candidate, which seems like the only way the approach could be very effective.

So far, Barack Obama has not bothered us at home, but I see that his wife Michelle has been used in robocalling elsewhere.

I kid you not, my fellow Americans: Just now, even while I have been finishing up this very entry, I got a phone call that was silent for several disturbing seconds until finally the recorded voice of Sen. John McCain identified itself and asked for my vote. (Less than an hour later, Amy answered yet another McCain call.)

I would bet that any candidate could pick up some significant support by simply pledging not to use robocalls — or better yet, not to solicit votes through cold calling at all. Certainly these spiels must exasperate more people than they inspire. This would be the sort of change that people of all parties would welcome.

And — after we win there, my friends — it’s on to the charity calls!

[Update: Monday, 2/18/2008 11:20 a.m.] I was just robocalled by Sen. Barack Obama. He says there’s an election tomorrow.

[Update: Monday, 2/18/2008 1:30 p.m.] We had a number of robocalls from both McCain and Clinton over the weekend, but just now I received two McCain calls in under one minute. This must become illegal ASAP.

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