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RoboCops Needed for Political Robocalls?

PHOTO: old telephone wrapped in cord. Photo Credit: Deborah Smith
PHOTO: old telephone wrapped in cord. Photo Credit: Deborah Smith
July 12, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Hold the phone! Robocall season is underway in West Virginia, along with the election season. Political robocalls are exempted from National Do Not Call Registry regulations, and some families have been targeted for several calls a day.

Shaun Dakin founded the National Political Do Not Contact Registry in 2007, hoping that candidates would use the list to refine their calling logs. He describes robocalls as "disrespectful" of voters because they are one-sided conversations.

"Robo-calls are kind of the perfect example of a political marketing machine: no civil discourse, no debate, no democracy. It's phone spam. You can't have a debate with a robo-call."

The calls are more than annoyances, Dakin says. He has collected stories from West Virginia and around the country about how the calls tie up lines being kept open for emergencies, disrupt the sleep of night-shift workers, and cause disturbances for people with mental health issues.

"Senior citizens with dementia answer the calls, they get confused, they get agitated, then their adult children have to leave their jobs and come and take care of their parents."

He adds that some research has shown the calls are ineffective and can alienate voters who support the cause. He also has documented cases where families have received 10 political robocalls in one day.

Many times, Dakin says, a call sounds like it's from a candidate, but it's really from a political action committee (PAC), and the "disclaimer" is impossible to understand unless the call is recorded and listened to several times.

More information is available at

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV