HOW TO: Contacting your elected representatives

Discussion in 'Legal' started by Huntzman, Feb 23, 2006.

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  1. Huntzman

    Huntzman Member

    Oct 28, 2005
    Contacting your elected representatives.

    As more and more threads are questioning the actions of their local representatives, I thought I might sit down and compose a guide to the effectiveness of methods of contact.

    In-Person Contact:
    Obviously if you can get face time with your local representative, or key member of their staff, that is the most effective method. A meeting usually needs to be arranged in advance. If you can arrange this, prepare yourself. Have key points you want to speak about and have some support available for your position. The key is to be brief, but take the time you need to present your position.

    A handwritten, or typed and signed letter, is the most effective means of communication (other than a face to face meeting). It is far more effective than photocopied form letters, postcard campaigns or emails. The traditional method is the handwritten letter. It shows that you are the writer (as opposed to maybe a “clip & paste”) but typewritten letters are also acceptable. Just be sure to sign your name in ink. Polling of politicians concerning the methods used to contact them has determined that at the federal level most view one written letter as representative of 1,000 constituents opinions. That means that your single letter is potentially going to carry a lot of weight!

    Telephone call:
    A phone call to your representative's office is generally more effective than sending an email, but is less effective than writing and mailing a letter. Just make sure that if you do not get through to your representative directly, that you request that your position, and specific request for action, is forwarded to them.

    The effectiveness of fax communication is higher than email, but less than a mailed letter and roughly equivalent to a phone call.

    Email is by far the least effective way of communicating your views to your representative. Some regard email as "second class mail" and some do not even read it. Others may receive so much that they and their staff have difficulty managing it. However, when you are unable to find time to mail a letter or make a phone call, it is better to send an email than do nothing. Remember one hand written letter is viewed as 1,000 !!!!

    Tips for Writing Letters
    Include your name and address: Identify yourself as a constituent by including your address when you write to your elected representatives. Generally, politicians are likely to pay most attention to people who live in their electoral district.

    Keep it brief: Letters should be no longer than one page and should be about one issue only. Be as concise as possible. Politicians receive many letters on many topics every day. Long letters are likely to be put aside to read on a less busy day and that day may never come.

    Use your own words, not someone else's: An original letter sent by one single person is more effective than a form letter (or cut and past texts) sent by dozens of people. Even if your writing skills are not the best, a letter written in your own words will carry much more weight.

    State the topic clearly: Include a subject line at the beginning of your letter. If it is about a specific piece of legislation or a proposed law, state the full name in the subject line, or at least in the first paragraph.

    Start with a clear statement of purpose: For example: "I am writing to urge your support for / opposition to..."

    Focus on the important points: Choose the 2-3 points that are most likely to be persuasive in gaining support for your position and flesh them out. This is more effective than attempting to address numerous points in a letter.
    Ask your representative to take specific action: For example, ask them to raise the matter in their party room and seek to have their party oppose the Bill. Point out that the issues are important enough to warrant amendments to the Bill, and/or for the representative to cross party lines if warranted.

    Ask for a response to your letter: While the response will usually be a form letter, written and authorized by their political party, you will know you have had an impact on their office.

    Personalize your letter: When possible, include a personal story and/or information on how the issue affects you, your family, your business, or people around you. This can help your representative understand your position and can be very persuasive as he/she forms a position on an issue. The more personal your letter, the more impact it is likely to have.

    Personalize your relationship: If you have ever voted for the representative, or contributed time or money to their election campaign, or have met them, etc, say so. The closer your representative feels to you, the more effective your letter is likely to be. The key is to show you are INVOLVED.

    Be polite: Be courteous, but don't be afraid to take a firm position. While your representative's job is to represent you, remember that politicians and their staff are people too. Threats, hostile remarks and rude/offensive language are among the fastest ways to alienate people who could otherwise decide to support your position in light of rational and reasoned argument. Your representative could be in elected office for decades, and could be promoted to higher, more influential, office within their party. Avoid creating enemies.

    Thanks is as important as criticism: Politicians/political parties need to be able to tell the 'other side' that they have been inundated with calls and letters supporting their position. Write thank you letters to politicians/parties that you know support your position. This will encourage them to stand firm on their position rather than backing down.

    Tips for Telephone Calls

    1. Before phoning about a proposed law, be sure you know the full name of the Bill.
    2. Be prepared to express your comments briefly and concisely.
    3. When you call, give your name and also identify yourself as a constituent when phoning your representative.
    4. Ask to speak to your representative or their relevant adviser about the [name of Bill, or topic].
    5. You will probably be put through to a staff member. Ask that your representative take concrete action, such as supporting or opposing a Bill, or seeking to have their party change its position, etc.
    6. It is worth following up after your telephone call with a letter or email.

    Contacting Newspapers (letters to editors)

    Politicians and their staff generally monitor the letters pages of newspapers. As well, published letters can raise awareness of an issue among readers who would not otherwise be aware of it. Even if not published, your letter could be instrumental in drawing to the newspaper's attention that the issue is of public concern and should be reported on by their staff.

    Keep letters short (most papers have a limit of 200 or 300 words) and include your name, address and phone number (newspapers generally will not print letters unless they are able to contact and confirm the sender and you can request that they not print your contact information).
  2. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Member

    Dec 26, 2002
    Great thread. I would just add that with modern terrorism concerns and the past anthrax scare at the Capitol, email and phone calls may have more weight than they used to and should always be used where time is a concern.

    If you have 3-4 months for a letter to work its way through the system, then that still carries the most weight.
  3. Waitone

    Waitone Member

    Dec 25, 2002
    The Land of Broccoli and Fingernails
    Huntzman, welcome to the THR.

    I would agree with your assessment right up to 10-Sept-01 and then things changed. I've done a little investigation of my own. While what you write may have been valid at some point in time, things (based on my investigation) are different now that anthrax is a reality.

    Let me preface my comments by saying I contact three of my elected national congressional types while living in another state. The results varied by elected rep but were somewhat consistent.

    --Ask your reps their preferred method of contact. In one case phone calls were valued just as highly as the written word. Other cases phone calls were tolerated by not appreciated.
    --Written communication varied across the board. In all cases written letters with personally signed signatures were not given any more weight than other forms. Reason is simple. All letter to DC now make a side trip through an ionization radiation unit to kill anthrax spores before being remotely opened and then forwarded to the DC office. It was evident DC did not like personal unique letters because of the hassle factor.
    --Email is perfectly acceptable just as long as email is the means of transmission of a formal letter. You know the drill: heading, salutation, body, conclusion, and spell checking is just fine. The DC and district office will check the address to see if it is in district. District letters carry more weight than non-district letters.
    --Faxes are perfectly acceptable just as long as the fax is the means of transmission of a formal letter. Again, the drill is the same. Faxes are not discounted just because they are faxes. Faxes (and email for that matter) are discounted when it is evident you are participating in a mass and coordinated campaign to flood congressional offices with spam.
    --One representative said to send snail mail if I insist, but send it to the local office. There the letter will be opened, collected with other mail, and couriered to DC for the next morning.
    --Another representative said to email to a general box located in a district office. Someone else said to fax letters to the district office while someone else said to fax to DC office. A third rep said they preferred faxes over email because email has to be called up and printed and put into a file. Faxes are pulled off the machine and put into the file resulting in less work for the staff. One rep did not want email but preferred faxes to the district office. Faxes were collected and pouched to DC for the next day. In my new state one senator's office told me they would prefer I use the email on his website rather than fax or freelance email. When I protested having to go to his website for each letter I was plainly told that was their preference.
    --In all cases I was told the office attaches great importance to establishing whether or not the author is indeed part of the member's district.
    --I was told it is critical to clearly and up front identify the topic of the letter. A letter is scanned to determine which pile it belongs in. The easier it is to identify the pile the happier the staffer is. Don't make the piler-upper read the whole letter and take a guess as to the proper pile. My practice is a separate line at the top of the letter referring to legislation or issue. Once the pile is assembled it is handed to the staffer responsible for following the legislation or issue. This is the person who actually reads the letter.
    --Make letter quick and to the point. No more than one page. Key points only. No epistles. And certainly no threats. Threats irritate and cause your opinion to be discounted.
    --Do not fax then email then snail mail the same letter. The help gets really PO'd. One communication per issue.

    In summary, put yourself in the position of handling communications from 1,000 voters during an 8 hour period. What would you want to make your life easier. Now put it into effect. You are trying to get your opinion heard by your representative. Don't P*ss off the help.

    I would encourage anyone interested in writing your elected representative in DC to pick up the telephone and call both the DC office and the district office. Find out what they want. Don't be shocked to find out each representative is different. Adopt your means of communication to their preferences. It makes everyone much happier.
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