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Robocalls a negative for campaigns, recipients

This commentary is from the Nov. 2 Tri-City Herald. It does not necessarily reflect the view of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board.

By the time Election Day arrives, we are always ready to have our landscape back.

Now that the primaries are in August, some election signs have been up for three months – although it seems much longer.

It gets a little old. And bothersome.

This year, however, we are also anxious to get our landlines back. (Apparently cell phone users don’t have as big of a problem with robocalls.)

It’s wasteful to have your mailbox full of unwanted political fodder, but it’s easy enough to toss it in the trash on the way to the house.

The robocalls, however, are a downright nuisance.

Robocalls, of course, are the prerecorded messages, sometimes from a candidate and sometimes not, that bombard your phone line this time of year.

Whether you’re eating dinner or out working in the yard, do you really care to stop what you’re doing to hear an “important message” from former Seattle Mariner Jay Buhner or the governor of some state on the East Coast?

And, we have to wonder, how can that phone call influence anyone’s vote?

We can see how the constant haranguing might alienate some would-be voter away from a candidate.

But we have serious doubts that anyone planning to vote for Patty Murray will listen intently to Buhner’s plug for his “good buddy” Dino Rossi and suddenly have a change of heart from a D to an R.

No, we have found most voters to be much more thoughtful, or possibly stubborn, when it comes to their political allegiance.

For voters who returned their ballots in mid-October, the automated calls aren’t just annoying – they’re useless. We’ve heard stories about Chicago, but around here it’s impossible to influence a vote that’s already been cast.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission made it illegal for telemarketers to harass us with robocalls. And it’s a pretty hefty fine – up to $16,000 per message.

Political calls are among the handful of exemptions to the ban – along with debt collectors and informational calls to tell you your plane is delayed.

Of course you can add your number to the Do Not Call Registry, but political solicitations are exempt under those guidelines, too.

Perhaps the proliferation of outside campaign money and cheaper technology has made robocalling irresistible to even more candidates this year.

Whatever the reason, the volume of calls this year seems over the top.

We would like to see the FTC take another look at the robocall ban – this time to include political messages.

About the signs – well, candidates have until 10 days after the elections to get them down. We will wait, patiently. But we’re counting.


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