September 17, 2002

The Election Results Are In

Overshadowed by 9/11 was the primary election held the day before. There were a number of hotly contested races and agendas taking place in our local campaigns. And this year, my wife and I were interested in a number of important issues.

Campaign signs on suburban lawns festooned our tree-lined streets. In the weeks leading up to the election, the amount of “paper” we received from those hoping to win our votes began to arrive in the mail. The closer election day came, the more brochures we received. This is nothing new. Direct mail campaigns are a tried-and-true method for informing voters. Although the huge volume this time reflected the large number of candidates and the numerous issues they felt passionately about. Our recycling bin was exceedingly full.

I was on “issue overload.” Smart-Growth verses Slow-growth, Good Schools verses Developers (not quite the non-sequitur it appears to be) and two Kennedys running for office. You get the picture: lots to think about and lots of personalities to absorb. As the election approached I was having a hard time figuring out everyone’s positions. It wasn’t easy matching candidates with all the right points of view. It started to seem as if no one person supported everything I believed in.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get much worse, we started receiving phone calls at the dinner hour. First we got one every few days but as election day approached they, too, began to multiply. And these weren’t the old time “get-out-the-vote” variety. These were automated pre-recorded campaign speeches. If we were out, they appealed to our answering machine for its vote. If we were home, we hung up (I kept repeating to myself: a recording cannot be offended).

In a report on Marketplace yesterday they laid out the advantages of these voicemail pleas. While the technology is several years old (wasn’t there a Simpson episode where Homer finds an automatic dialer and appropriates it with his own “special” message?) the cost for such campaigns is three times less than TV, radio, and mail. At a cost of 3.5 cents per household 672 homes can be called at once, up to a million per day. Voicemail ads can also target different neighborhoods with different messages. Multiply that by the number of hotly contested races we had and you can see how I felt like I was receiving all 672 calls on my phone.

As I neared my polling place last Tuesday, I was met by a throng of campaign workers, hands outstretched with last minute brochures as offerings. I stopped right in the middle of the group and raised my hands for momentary silence: “How many of the candidates you are working for called my house with a pre-recorded message?” They laughed nervously. “Let it be known,” I continued, “that I will not be voting for ANYONE who employed this tactic to get my vote.” They continued to chuckle as though I was kidding.

I walked past them, thankful they were not allowed any closer than 100 feet from a polling place and could not follow me any further. Let them laugh.

• • •

Update: Remember Nancy Flooren, the candidate for County Council? I looked closely at her positions and voted for her despite her response to my early morning subway entrance question. In my book, good politics hopefully trumps temporary lapses in spin delivery anytime. I hope I’m right.

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