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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 5, 2012

PROVO, Utah - Hold the phone! Robocall season is underway in Utah, 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 candidates would use the list to refine their calling logs. He describes robocalls as "disrespectful" of voters, because they're one-sided conversations.

"Robocalls are the perfect example of a marketing political machine with no civil discourse, no debate, no democracy. It's phone spam. You can't have a debate with a robocall."

Often, a call appears to come from a candidate, but it's really from a Political Action Committee (PAC), he says, and the "disclaimer" is impossible to understand unless you record the call and listen to it several times.

Dakin condemns the calls as more than annoyance. He has collected stories from Utah and around the country about how robocalls tie up lines being kept open for emergencies, disrupt the sleep of night-shift workers, and disturb people who have mental health issues.

"For example, if a senior citizen answers the call and they have dementia, 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 to be ineffective, and they can alienate voters who support the cause. He has also documented cases where families have received 10 political robocalls in one day.

More information is available at www.StopPoliticalCalls.org.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - UT