Congress: Don't E-mail, Just Send CashSubmitted Wed Jun 07 2006 10:30:00 GMT-0400 (EDT)
A lively discussion has sprouted on the Progressive Exchange listserv this week following an announcement by the House of Representatives' Chief Administrative Officer that it's pioneered heretofore unseen frontiers in hampering constituent e-mail.
The name of the game -- quite literally -- is "logic puzzles": solve a test question to qualify for the right to talk to your elected representative. You can get a demo here.
The object is to add a roadblock to constituents intending to ontact Congress ... and thereby to hinder groups who organize people to do that.
Unfortunately, with the advent of email communication, some organizations have begun to use automated programs to send messages to Congress on behalf of constituents - better known as "SPAM." [screenshot]
Funny, that. Where I'm from, people communicating with an elected legislature is better known as liberal democracy.
Congress has grappled and groped for solutions to the resource-straining tide of communications made possible by the Internet this past decade, and consistently opted against forward-thinking solutions and in favor of checkpoints, walls and retreat. With the erstwhile ne plus ultra of constituent input, the physical letter, often unusable because of slug-footed post-anthrax irradiation routines, it's long past time Congress embraced the medium and moved towards some form of standardized data structuring that would enable it to handle millions of inputs -- and not just millions worth of inputs. Self-interest, if nothing else, dictates as much.
Instead, many members are taking the spurious position that third-party sites who facilitate messages to the Hill from their communities are spammers -- something they'd never dream to say of people who organize call-in days, not to mention those who generate checks to their PACs -- and using that as an excuse to obstruct or ignore such messages.
The "logic puzzles", meanwhile, raise accessibility concerns of their own not unlike captchas, and are themselves eminently defeatable. As one listserv member pointed out, the most ready-at-hand defeat (while vendors work around the technology) is to switch back to faxing, which most Congressional offices justifiably detest.
Digital democracy by way of trees and toner? That's better known as "unintended consequences."
*DemocracyInAction provides write-your-rep services to a number of these organizations.