Lawmaker wants automated voter calling hung up

Posted: Sunday, January 23, 2005

Among the more annoying manifestations of recent political campaigns were those tiresome and often inconvenient phone calls urging support for one candidate or another or espousing a point of view.

They were doubly irritating when you realized you were being pitched by a recording. The first hint often was a disturbing pause after you answered, "Hello."

Automated messaging was common, largely because it is relatively inexpensive compared to mass mailings.

If Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna, has his way, though, use of the messaging method could be severely curtailed in future elections.

Olson has introduced House Bill 62, which proposes to amend state law covering telephone solicitation by banning the use of automated messages meant to influence potential voters about a candidate or proposition.

Current law already prohibits phone solicitation of anyone identified in the telephone directory as not wanting to receive such calls, or who has been registered with the national do-not-call registry.

In addition, solicitors may not call people who have previously notified them or the businesses or charities for which they work that they do not want to receive those calls. Nor may solicitors originate a call advertising a product or service using automated or recorded messages.

Olson's amendment would add automated political solicitations to the list of prohibited calls. In doing so, it would neutralize another provision that currently exempts calls limited to soliciting the expression of ideas, opinions or votes. Olson's measure would not affect political calls made by live persons.

The measure has been sent to the House State Affairs and Judiciary committees for hearings.

Olson said some automated telephone calling systems are especially devious.

"There are particular machines that will disconnect when they get a voice on the line. They target answering machines. They're extremely invasive," he said.

As he went door to door during his campaign for the Alaska House last fall, Olson said a major complaint he heard concerned automated phone calls. That may have been true in other races, he added, because he's seeing some support among his colleagues.

"So far, I haven't ran into anybody that has any problems with it," he said.

No committee hearing dates have been set yet, but Olson said he figures it should get a hearing in the next couple of weeks.

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