It’s closing in on Independence Day, my elected representatives are on vacation and I have some thoughts on Logic Puzzles…yeah, I need a day off work!
Many of the leading nonprofits leverage the internet to mobilize us and advocate on important public policy issues. Literacy-tests to vote were abolished long ago, but members of Congress don’t want you to contact them now without taking a quiz!
What’s a Logic Puzzle? Example: If x is 1 and y is 2. What is x? Which of the following numbers is largest: 53, 52 or 05? Get the answer wrong three times in a row and you’re blocked from sending an email to your elected government representative!
You may not be aware, but there are an alarming number of Congressional offices implementing technology that adds a step to the process for you (constituents) who want to communicate with your state or federal legislators. The new technology, commonly known as a logic puzzle, requires human interaction and is intended to prevent automated and repeated mass use of Web site functions such as sending emails — actions not initiated by real people. You may have seen similar puzzles on other Web sites, particularly when creating a new account or email address.
What’s behind Congressional adoption of logic puzzles? It’s the result of several factors: growing use of email by advocacy organizations and their constituents; lack of adequate Congressional staff to handle rising email volumes; and pervasive distrust of form letters on Capitol Hill. Access is everything in politics. The Internet, especially email, provides the average Joe the access to our elected representatives and the ability to reach politicians. We often use “form” communications to reach Congress — letters with identical content, but from different senders. Form letters are, very efficient for nonprofits or activist groups conducting advocacy campaigns and it’s also convenient for us.
Not surprisingly, in the last 10 years individual communications to Congress increased four-fold (300 million messages/year) due to electronic communications, according to a study by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps Congress become more productive and effective through better management. However, Congressional office staffing has not grown at a pace to support, and the study states that approximately 3/4 of all Congressional offices do not trust the legitimacy of form letters.
Where do you sit on this debate? Is it reasonable to ask, in this age of mass communication, that a real human be behind the letters that your representatives receive? Do you care if this means that nonprofits or activists are going to have to do a little more work? Does copying a six- or eight-digit number or answering a question bother you, or do you see this as just another step of the “overhead” process in the new digital democracy?
Happy 4th of July America.