Evil Gadgets: Robot phone calling machines attacked in congress

If you thought you were sick of being called by recorded messages during the primaries, just wait 'til the fall. Your man on the hill is Shaun Dakin, the founder of the National Political Do Not Contact Registry, an organization that wants regulators to enforce rules against robot calls. Sarah Lai Stirland at Wired's Threat Level blog writes:
California's public utilities code says that robocalls are only legal when they're introduced by a live person. But Dakin says that the rules are never enforced, and points to the spate of robocalls conducted by the presidential candidates during this year's primaries as an example. He says that thousands of Californians have already entered themselves on his unofficial registry in the hopes that they won't receive any more automated political calls.
And yet his quest seems fruitless. First amendment rights for machines? Anti-Robocall Crusader Pushes For a Crackdown on Political Phone Droids [Wired]

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3 Responses to Evil Gadgets: Robot phone calling machines attacked in congress

  1. d2kd3k says:

    Rob, I’ve actually corresponded with Shaun about his project in the past. While I find robocalls just as annoying as the next person, I firmly oppose Shaun’s project.

    Why? It will contribute to lower voter turnouts.

    Running (Get out the vote) GOTV operations takes a HUGE amount of human resources: think hundreds of volunteers and paid staff on election day for a single state level house race, then multiply that across all the state and national campaigns on a ticket.

    What are these volunteers doing? Putting out door hangers to tell voters where their polling places are located, running ride-to-the-polls operations, monitoring polling places to make sure the votes are recorded correctly, handing out campaign literature at polling places, going door to door in precincts reminding people to vote.

    Why is all this work necessary? Voter turnout in the US is pitifully low, and it takes a huge effort from campaigns to drag their voters out to the polls.

    One of the most effective and efficient GOTV tools is reminder phone calls, that confirm the date of the election (everyone should know but they often don’t), the location of your polling place, and the times the polls are open.

    Sure there are lots of other kinds of robocalls, and sure an awful lot of campaigns do a horrible, annoying, and ineffective job of robocalls.

    But, what Shaun Dakin is proposing would:
    A) regulate free speach
    B) limit politicians’ ability to convey their message to voters outside a media filter
    C) make it more difficult to get voters to the polls in an already apathetic political climate with low voter turnout levels

    Also, note that the evangelicals have a VERY high voter turnout rate and most traditionally Democratic constituencies have very, very low turnout rates, so one of the second order effect of this campaign if it were successful would be to increase voter turnout for Republicans and decrease voter turnout for Democrats.

    I question why Dakin is behind a campaign that would undermine the foundations of electoral politics.

    It is hard enough to get voters in this country off their posteriors and out to exercise their privilege and responsibility as citizens of a democracy as it is. I just can’t support anything that makes it harder.

    I’d far rather see the same energy go into getting people informed about the facts in campaigns and casting their votes.

  2. dainel says:

    d2kd3k, why don’t you just blast the voters with a million emails? Because that would be considered junkmail, and nearly all of them will just ignore it.

    It’s harder to ignore a phone call. A phone call is much more intrusive. Your mistake here is to consider “my call is for a good cause, so what harm could it do, they could just hang up if they don’t want to listen”. That is what every spammer think, just before they click that send button. People hate spam not just because of it’s contents. The main problem is the volume makes it take up too much of their time.

    How many junkmails do you get every day? Imagine a time 2 years from now, when your phone rings 300 times every day. That’s every 5 minutes, ringing through the night without any break for you to get any sleep. If these 800 calls occurred only during the 8 hour work-day, the phone will ring every 1.6 minutes. How would you get any work done?

    Would you say that GOTV is more important than a campaign to get people to donate blood, or register as an organ donor, or any of a million other good causes? 180 phone calls taking just 20 seconds of your time adds up to 1 hour. Would you want to spend 1 hour everyday listening to pitches from charities? Robocalls has the potential to make your phone as unuseabe as your email. Forcing callers to not use automated machines cuts down on the volume.

  3. shimaneccd says:

    Thanks for the post.

    GOTV has been studied and, according to Green and Gerber at Yale, Robo call have “a perfect record of never having worked”.

    You can read a summary of the study at:


    Why am I doing this?

    Citizens hate congress (9% approval) rating. Why? Many reasons. One of which is the fact that they don’t listen. Why? because they talk at them with robos, and not with them.

    Shut off robos and maybe Americans will vote.


    Shaun Dakin

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