Ever wonder what it’s like to be on the other end of that phone line during election season?

(January 28, 2008) Hear the audio version

If your phone is ringing a bit more frequently this week before the California primary, well, I’m sorry. No, I have nothing to do with those annoying, intrusive, is-anyone-on-the-other-end-of-the-phone-line? automated political phone calls. I am, though, proud to be an old-fashioned campaign volunteer who makes hundreds of telephone calls a week to identify supporters and get them to vote. It’s a tough job, but if I don’t want the campaign I’m working for to resort to those ridiculous robocalls, I’d better get on the phone myself.

I’ve been calling voters in California, Iowa and Nevada from my kitchen since early December. I became used to Iowans hanging up on me somewhere in the middle of, “Hi, my name is Debbie Duncan and I’m a volunteer for the-” I don’t take it personally. Only about 15 percent even answer the phone (Nevadans more readily than Iowans or Californians, whatever that means). I usually get an answering machine. That’s fine. I don’t want to bother you if you don’t care to talk to me. If you do answer and don’t want to hear my pitch, a simple “No, thank you,” or “I’d rather not talk politics on the telephone” will get me to mark “Refused” on my computer screen, and keep at least one campaign from calling you again. My 17-year-old daughter calls from the campaign office where the caller ID is the name of the candidate. Someone she called answered the phone with another candidate’s name. That got the message across – efficiently and with humor.

But what really keeps me punching those telephone numbers is finding that occasional golden needle – a voter who wants to hear why I’m supporting my candidate and not another, or who has been waiting to be asked to volunteer, or who just has a question and an open mind. I made friends with a mom in Iowa whose son was recently injured in Iraq. I helped another woman answer a question she was debating with her husband when I called – and then they both promised to support my candidate. I spoke to a native of Trinidad who thanked me for looking up her caucus location. These are citizens who, like me and I hope most listeners, want to participate in the democratic process at its most basic level. And that’s a good thing.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

I can write here what I could not say on the air: OBAMA ’08!

It’s election season, and with it the return of “robo-calls”

(October 24, 2006) Hear the audio version

The calls returned in September, after a mere two-month reprieve. I swore after the June primary that I’d try to have our telephone number removed from voter registration lists, but did I get around to it over the summer? Nope. So this election season we are once again treated to answering the telephone to hear a pesky recorded political phone call, also known as a robo-call. Is the election over yet?

Ever since that glorious “National Do Not Call Registry” went into effect, most of the phone calls my family receives are wanted, appreciated, and have a live human being on the other end of the line. When the telephone rings I immediately wonder if the call’s from one of our daughters away at college, my parents across town, a friend inviting me to lunch or a ballgame, or perhaps an editor who wants to buy my book. So even though I would love to talk politics with Bill or Hillary or Al Gore or “United States Senator Barbara Boxer,” I do not appreciate answering the phone to their taped political pitches, even if I do agree with their candidate or cause. (That is, of course, why I’m on their lists.) These calls are nothing less than a one-sided invasion of my work and personal privacy. I can’t even tell the callers I don’t appreciate it, because no one is listening. So I hang up.

I cannot believe these calls work. But I’m one who also can’t fathom that all those Viagra, stock-tip, lottery-winning, mortgage offers, and eBay and PayPal account suspension notices caught in my spam filter every day get any response either. My niece the Washington lobbyist assures me robo-calls are a cheap and effective tool, especially close to election day. Even if only a minute percentage of the electorate pays attention, they pay off.

Yet I’m so annoyed, I’m tempted to vote against whatever they are supporting. And if people like me are successful in removing our phone numbers from voter rolls, we’re limiting future opportunities for political discourse with candidates and causes-many of them local-that still use real, live callers. Hello? Is anybody there?

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.