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They're tired of you and they don't want to hear from you anymore

If you absolutely must express your political opinion to the individual elected to represent you, please do it in the most labor intensive way possible. After all, this is 2006 and we wouldn't want to take advantage of modern technology.


While some members of Congress are trying to cut pork out of the Congressional diet, other members are concerned about interest group spam (known to some as constituent e-mail). New web technology enables members of Congress to require the completion of a simple math or logic problem (examples include what is 5 minus 1, or 3 x 1) before constituents can e-mail them. The optional enhancement to "Write your Rep" is designed to thwart mass e-mails and ensure that only an actual person can complete the puzzle. In some cases, like Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) contact page, constituents are asked to choose the nth word out of both politically-charged or nonsensical words like xenophobic, snootiness, canonizing, secretions, skidooed, markups, and snafus.

Common Cause described the new technology as "blocking communication from the people who vote [Congressional members] into office." The ACLU agreed and denounced the use of "logic puzzles." According to the Washington Post, of the 8,262 times the logic puzzle was viewed in the House, only 1,568 people solved the puzzle correctly and moved on to send a message, which could mean that the computer could not crack the code or humans were frustrated and gave up. The Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum (in what is arguably abusive hyperbole) compared the measure to poll taxes once used to prevent blacks from voting.

Anyone with an e-mail account can sympathize with Congress members' desire to reduce spam. Unfortunately, the fundamental problem may be lawmakers' general resistance to constituent input in e-mail form. The new web feature also risks being challenged by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Many advocacy groups provide form letters (like this) through their websites that would be filtered out, if sent directly through the website. Whether a member of Congress considers the letter "spam" is beyond the point--constituents have the constitutional right "to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

I've also read that they basically throw away letters nowadays after the anthrax scare. The only way they'll actually read what you send to them is if you send a "nicely worded" fax. I don't know about you, but most voters don't really have easy access to a fax machine.

By fnord12 | June 22, 2006, 2:40 PM | Liberal Outrage


Well, I can't speak for the industry as a whole, but at the very least, our solution here is to send any emails that are blocked by logic puzzles, captchas and the like as faxes. So when you submit forms from people advocacy groups, your message will still get through.

The reality of the situation is, a big advocacy group can deluge a congressional office with 10s of thousands of emails in the span of a few hours. On top of which, most people don't bother to customize their messages or their message subjects, so after the congresscritter's staffers read the first message, the rest are just tallied up.

The long term solution is to work with Congress to come up with a plan that still allows communication, but doesn't require hours of tedious work on the part of staffers. Whether or not Congress is interested in coming up with such a technical solution is still in question. But at the very least, the implementation of these logic puzzles is an offensive solution that doesn't solve the actual problem they're facing. Now instead of being deluged with emails they're going to be deluged with faxes.