I voted for one Republican last week, a judicial candidate named Bob Edmunds. I didn't plan to. But the night before the election, in the middle of the dinner hour, I received a phone call from Edmunds' Democratic opponent. "Hello, my name is Franklin Freeman, and I'm running for the N.C. Supreme Court," came the disembodied voice. "For the past 20 years," it continued, but I don't know what came next, because I hung up.
This is the year that politicians have discovered the autodialer, a mechanical device that promiscuously dials phone numbers, then delivers a prerecorded "personal" spiel from the candidate. "Using a 30-second message, it is possible to complete 50 calls per hour per line," brags Steve Abrams, a South Carolina political consultant, on his Web site. "Listen-through rates of over 70 percent are not uncommon. ... Our experience has shown that autodialers are an extremely effective and inexpensive way to 'reach out and touch' your voters."
In the week before the elections, I was "touched" not only by Franklin Freeman, but by gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot, congressional candidate Jess Ward, Arizona Sen. John McCain (on behalf of George W. Bush) and by some guy who warned me not to believe all the nasty things Al Gore was saying about Texas. Republicans seem to favor the technology above Democrats, though I also got an autodialed message from the progressive Durham People's Alliance. The traffic eventually got so thick that I grew reluctant to pick up the phone until after the polls closed Tuesday.
Prerecorded phone calls aren't like junk mail or even computer spam. The telephone is my main work tool, not to mention my link to friends and family. Its ring interrupts my meals, my sleep, my private time. If a candidate calls me personally, at least I have the opportunity to ask him questions or slam down the phone. But autodialers make it too easy to intrude on my space without consequences.
So here's my covenant with the candidates for future elections: If you call my home with an autodialer, you lose my vote. Plain and simple. After all, if I can't trust you to stay out of my home uninvited, how can I trust your instincts as a policy maker?