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Using spam to attract voters

By inkydoo in Technology
Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 02:06:18 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

Tony Sanchez, a democrat running for Governer of Texas, recently used a purchased email list to spam potential voters. Of course, his campaign states that the message is "definitely not spam," but so does a large amount of the spam sent out on a daily basis. This action by a major political candidate raises several serious issues, including whether this method of attracting voters will become more common.

Sponsor: rusty
This space intentionally left blank
...because it's waiting for your ad. So why are you still reading this? Come on, get going. Read the story, and then get an ad. Alright stop it. I'm not going to say anything else. Now you're just being silly. STOP LOOKING AT ME! I'm done!
comments (24)
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Political consultants must be watching with fascination to see how Sanchez' move will turn out. The Austin American Statesman article quotes a GOP consultant as saying the pay-off of such methods "would be huge." Fortunately, he also admits there might be a downside: that you might alienate more voters than you attract. Nonetheless, one has to think that if Sanchez successfully wins the Democratic primary, politicians around the country will employ similar methods in the next election. As such, the time to act is now, when voters have a clear chance to demonstrate that direct email, even in the supposed service of democracy, is unacceptable.

Lest you think the only thing at stake is whether you get a few more pieces of spam around election time, think again. In the last few years, legislators at both the federal and state level have just begun to tackle the problem of spam from a legal perspective. Some solutions have been more successful than others, which clearly indicates more work needs to be done on such laws. What will happen to this work if politicians decide that spam is important to their ability to campaign? Suddenly, the only people in a position to make spamming a punishable offense have a vested interest in ensuring that doesn't happen.

This issue provides an opportunity for Internet users to put their technical and political saavy to use. We need to send a message of our own to politicians who think spam is a good idea. Not only do we not want to be on their mailing list, the existence of such a mailing list means our votes go elsewhere come election day.


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Using spam to attract voters | 32 comments (22 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
VOTE FOR ME!!!!! THIS IS NOT A HOAX!!!! (4.60 / 15) (#2)
by jabber on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 02:08:06 PM EST

John Q. Public did not vote for me in the last election!!! He is now serving 6 - 10 for tax fraud!!! Jane S. Johnson didn't vote for me either and she woke up in a bathtub full of ice and her kidneys were missing; on the bathroom mirror it said "Don't you wish you'd voted for Tony Sanchez??"!!!!!

Harry Harrington voted for me, and he has since made a fortune on secret stock tips!!! Not only that, he has added 3 whole inches to the length of his penis!!! Mary Jablonski voted for me too, and has not has a speeding ticket since!!!

Vote for me today!!! Then tell 5 of your friends to vote for me!!! Make sure that they tell 5 of their friends to vote for me too!!!

If you do not vote for me and don't tell your friends to either, you will have bad luck for 10 years. If you vote for me but still not tell your friends to, you will only have bad luck for 5 years. If you vote for me and tell your friends to, and they do, you will all have good luck for the duration of my term!!!

If you don't vote for me, the terrorists will have won!!!

Together we can win. God bless America!!! Send this message to all your friends!!!

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Exactly! (none / 0) (#29)
by vambo rool on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 11:38:21 PM EST

Can you imagine the dirty tricks squad once they're unleashed into e-mail land?

Vote for me or the terrorists have already one.

[ Parent ]
It's an interesting tactic. (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by aphrael on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 02:10:17 PM EST

I can see why you would think it might detract from support for the guy, but maybe not. A few years ago, when the reform party split in half,t the half that was endorsed by the California branch of the party was that led by John Hagelin, who was also the candidate of the Natural Law party (a party which, despite its name, seemed to be advocating the use of meditation to solve the country's problems). His running-mate was the man who had invented spam. When I gave that as my explicit reason for voting against him, people were confused and didn't understand my objection.

Huge payoff? (3.50 / 4) (#4)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 02:24:10 PM EST

I had gathered the impression that spammers made money by selling email lists to each other--the spam itself seems pretty ineffective. Couple that with voter apathy and I can't see political spam having any kind of "huge payoff".

Play 囲碁
+1 This needs to be moderated yes... (3.66 / 3) (#9)
by tthomas48 on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 03:45:36 PM EST

but I think it is extremely important that this happen. You would give them a "political email address" when you registered to vote. The politician would not know who you were, and would not be able to find out. The state would just give them a list of email addresses for all voters in their district. You could opt out by not giving them your email address. This would completely level the playing field. Bravo to Tony for trying something new to defeat the Oil/Satan/Enron/Perry monarchy in Texas. And yes Rick Perry makes G.W. Bush look like Santa Clause, and no, I'm not just saying that because my house sits next to the longhorn "rusty, holey" pipeline.

Why email? (none / 0) (#15)
by linca on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 04:41:19 PM EST

This already exist in some form in France. In every election, each candidate gives a piece of paper describing its program, etc..., to some election commitee, which sends all those leaflets, together, to each registered voter. This way, every voter learns about all the candidates.

[ Parent ]
Exactly... (none / 0) (#18)
by tthomas48 on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 06:09:28 PM EST

I think that candidates here in the states should be encouraged to do this, because what you're describing is exactly what doesn't happen here. Local politcos often just stay off the radar if they have a majority, because they already know they've won. It's an easy victory because no one knows to vote against you. We are a mass media country and unfortunately we have very few mechanisms for small time media. I think email might have chance because it's new and wouldn't cost the state money(yes it would cause the end user, but that's less relevant since it would be opt-in). Seems like a win-win for everyone except incumbents who don't want what they really do drug out into the open.

[ Parent ]
Email, because its green. (3.00 / 2) (#27)
by arcade on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 11:07:44 AM EST

Why email? Because you do NOT waste mother nature's resources. That's why. I'm normally strictly non-spam, but when it comes to pure information, especially about politics, I think its important than _Everybody_ is next-to _required_ to read up on all alternatives. That is the only way the democratic process may work. If people do NOT read up on all available alternatives, and does NOT make a choice (which may be "none'of'em thank you very much for trying"), then there is no democracy. And since everybody SHOULD read the material, email is much better than dead-tree-mail.

[ Parent ]
An effective way to get people to vote. (4.50 / 2) (#10)
by dram on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 03:59:17 PM EST

I think this is an acceptable use of the internet and 'spam'. I am currently working on a campaign; I am an office manager and have been calling people at their houses for the past month to get them to vote on my issue. Most people would think of this as telemarketing, but it's not; it is getting people involved in the democratic process. Using 'spam' would be the same thing.

The majority of people in this country - the US - don't vote. About half of the people that can vote are registered, and about half of the registered voters actually vote, less during primaries and gubernatorial elections. If nobody goes and talks to these people, explaining to them why it's important for them to vote, they will not vote. These people will not go out and search for a candidate's website, the website needs to come to them.

Many people say how great the internet is, how people will be able to find all sorts of information on issues and candidates so they can make an informed choice at the polls, but that is only half of the battle to get a good republic to work. We also need to motivate voters to get to the polls; we need to show voters the importance of the issues and differences between the candidates; we need to get people involved and participating in their own government. However much you dislike spam, this is a good method of bringing the issues to the people.


Even so... (4.50 / 2) (#11)
by ScuzzMonkey on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 04:22:08 PM EST

Even if it is an effective way to get people to vote, I'm not sure that should ultimately be the point. When I worked campaigns, I always felt a little slimy even doing just GOTV calls. Sure, I thought it was for a good cause or I wouldn't have been there, but that didn't change the fact that I was cold-calling people who in most cases would rather not have picked up the phone if they'd known what it was about. Spam is slightly better than that--it's not interuppting anyone--but it's still basically an intrusion on someone's time for a cause that they might not find to be so important.

Now, my take on spam is about the same as it is on junkmail (or telemarketing, for that matter)--if you don't want to open the stuff, don't open it (or answer the phone if you're not prepared to be interupted). Still, it's someone bothering me over something that they think is important, which I do not. I don't think that's a justification, and it's really the only one you're offering. You think getting out and voting is important--the person you are spamming may well not. This puts you in the same position as any other junk mail advertiser, regardless of whether or not you feel you are helping to uphold the flower of democracy.

Finally, one of the salient features of American democracy, IMHO, is that it is tied hand in hand with freedom. That includes the freedom to not give a crap about voting; it's fine if you feel otherwise and want to share that feeling, but I don't think it's an excuse to use seedy marketing tools that aren't generally approved of in other circumstances, either.
No relation to Happy Monkey (User #5786)
[ Parent ]

A rose by any other name (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by vambo rool on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 11:33:21 PM EST

Most people would think of this as telemarketing, but it's not; it is getting people involved in the democratic process.


It's telemarketing. Because you want to do it, you say it's not telemarketing, just to try to keep your sainted hands clean, but it's telemarketing at its rawest and most base form. Locally, some clown (named Peggy Davis-Mullin), was running for mayor and not only telephoned the house nearly non-stop in the days running up to the election, it was automated calls with recorded messages. This is unacceptable. Deceive yourself all you want to, delude yourself into thinking what you're doing is pure and chaste. Just be aware that you're living a lie.

Oh, by all means, educate me at your convenience. Don't stop to consider that I might actually be trying to make a living here. Go right ahead and interrupt my train of thought. Go ahead and tied my phone up with a fucking automated message so none of my clients can get through until you finish explaining to me why you're doing such grand and glorious work. Get over yourself. You're just as annoying and as likely to meet with success as getting me to change my long distance carrier. Do it and not only will I not vote for your candidate or issue, even if I had supported it up until that point, I will now actively work against you at every opportunity.

"No sir, that's not embezzlement, it's an advance against future receipts." A rose by any other name.

[ Parent ]
1st Political Spam (5.00 / 2) (#12)
by bmasel on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 04:25:50 PM EST

I may have invented the form, using my sig box in ON TOPIC Usenet posts while challenging Tommy Thompson in the Republican Primary for Governor of Wisconsin in 1990.

Here's the oldest post to make Google's surviving archive.

and the sig:
Ben Masel (cdp!bmasel@labrea.stanford.edu)
Republican Candidate for Governor (Sept 11 primary)
Campaign contibutions up to $19.90 may be sent to
Masel for Governor Hemp for Wisconsin
POB 3481 Madison, WI 53701

(the email and POBox above are long gone)

I am not currently Licensed to Practice in this State.
1st Amendment problems with banning political spam (5.00 / 2) (#13)
by bmasel on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 04:36:50 PM EST

The court rulings upholding laws against commercial spammers and junk faxers have all drawn a clear line between regulating political and commercial speech. Same thing applies in meatspace. City hall may prohibit advertising signs in your front yard, but may not sanction yard signs endorsing candidates.
I am not currently Licensed to Practice in this State.
I do want to be on the list (4.50 / 2) (#14)
by squigly on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 04:39:37 PM EST

As long the list is opt-in. I'd also prefer it to be a list shared by all candidates. I feel I should know about the different candidates.

But it must be opt-in. Sending me information that I haven't requested is a little unethical - I have to pay for this. Besides, anyone who is actually going to read it when sent unsolicted would probably be willing to opt in in the first place.

Wonder if he's considered the spam he'll get? (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by fossilcode on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 05:09:18 PM EST

I noticed he has email addresses posted on his web site. Wonder how much spam will start going to info@tonysanchez.com?
"...half the world blows and half the world sucks." Uh, which half were you again?
Happened in CA.US (5.00 / 1) (#21)
by Perpetual Newbie on Fri Feb 08, 2002 at 09:17:37 PM EST

Bill Jones, candidate for Governor of California, spammed a bunch of folks in December.

My opinion is that political (and all) spam ought to be illegal. This naturally conflicts with my opinion that physically mailed advertisements are free speech. My rationalizations are that there is a real cost to paper ads which will naturally act to stem their number while the cost of allowing electronic advertising is too great, and post office boxes are the property of the US Government whereas an email account or answering machine (I don't like telephone ads either) is the property of the receiving individual. Further thought is that I wouldn't mind being on an opt-out basis with friends or, in some situations, businesses that I contact through e-mail.

So I have a philosophical conflict over spamming. Whatever, I just won't be voting for Bill Jones because of this. Since I don't like Grey Davis either, I'll have to find another candidate to vote for who isn't worse.

Paper and E-Mail "Spam" (none / 0) (#24)
by RadiantMatrix on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 02:35:03 AM EST

Let's quickly define "Spam" so we're on the same page. Let's call "Spam" in this context any advertising contact from an organization who has no previous relationship with me.

Now, I agree with your philosophy -- paper spam is annoying, but I have no problem with it. I can easily throw it in the recycle bin, and it cost me nothing but my irritation. Besides, sometimes I learn about promotions that are useful to me.

E-mail spam, however, costs. Not just the sender, but the owner of every machine and network it touches. From the sender's ISP to thier upstream provider to their backbone provider, and on back down to me. Even worse is that E-mail is subject to two issues that snail-mail isn't: storage limitations and bandwidth cost.

I've actually canned a Hotmail account because my daily spam reciept exceeded my mailbox quota. I missed several important e-mails because of this (fortunately, no harm done). Also, just because most Americans with e-mail pay flat rate for connections, spammers assume every e-mail user has the same situation. Surprise, many, many people pay per-minute or per-kilobyte for thier connections. Which blows when you have spam in your POP box.

So, no ethical problems for me -- paper spam is fine, but if you take up my storage and my money to advertise to me, you should be commiting a tort if not a crime.

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.

[ Parent ]

Paper Spam (5.00 / 1) (#26)
by pilot on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 10:51:08 AM EST

When talking about spam, many people compare it to paper spam. E-mail spam costs us, but paper spam doesn't, right?

The U.S Postal Service receives monies from taxpayers. Why are so many people complacent with such hidden costs?

If we see the money going from our pocket, we get angry. If we see it trickling, we chuckle.

Both e-mail spam and its aging first-cousin paper variant need to be made illegal. Granted, the inherent cost of spending paper spam curbs the problem significantly.

[ Parent ]

USPS Support (5.00 / 1) (#32)
by RadiantMatrix on Mon Feb 11, 2002 at 06:43:58 AM EST

The U.S Postal Service receives monies from taxpayers. Why are so many people complacent with such hidden costs?
We aren't -- the USPS is entirely self-supporting.

No amount of genius can overcome a preoccupation with detail.

[ Parent ]
We should probably encourage this (5.00 / 1) (#25)
by adiffer on Sat Feb 09, 2002 at 02:35:30 AM EST

One of the underlying reasons for the fact that politicians need so much money is the high costs they face to reach us.

Many of the costs associated with the people who support a campaign can be minimized through volunteer labor and donations of material. The cost of advertising is not so flexible.

If you are a candidate for anything above a local office, you probably have to advertise to have a chance to win. If you need to use radio or television, your costs can be significant. Look at it from the station owner's perspective and you will see a bunch of customers really motivated to buy your product. Access to airtime is being controlled by a smaller and smaller group of comapanies, so it isn't all that hard to figure out where all that soft money is actually going to wind up after a campaign season.

Political campaign spam gets around the hold broadcasters have on access to the public awareness. If voters respond to this kind of approach and vote for or against candidates based on what they receive in emails, we as a society may be able to do an end-run around the whole campaign finance situation we face today.
-Dream Big. --Grow Up.

Not an entirely new idea. (none / 0) (#30)
by WWWWolf on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 05:43:58 PM EST

This sort of stuff happens in all sorts of elections... this is the first time I've heard this happening at this level, but in smaller elections it's not entirely uncommon.

I know even a couple of famous cases... I think s.p.(u.t.u.)m. once commented on some political spam campaign? That Campaign (or so I think) Wasn't Entirely Effective.

Just within last two years, someone from Tampere, Finland, tried to PolitiSpam(tm) before the municipial elections. The spam list was mostly gathered from the university and other places of education. (Well, Tampere is a big city - in Finnish scale - and local government is best place you can get if you're not going for the Parliament or Presidency =)

Of course, after people "gently" contacted him, the claimed it was "an experiment on the extent of the freedom of speech". (I thought only American spammers used that lamest-of-the-lame excuse? =) He also published some of the details of what people had said to him of this thing; some wrote on to support him, but as for the rest, uh...

Spamming is illegal in Finland; I don't know what happened to him - but I hope the somewhat rough road to politics was a rocky enough to remind of the intricacies of political campaigning. =)

-- Weyfour WWWWolf, a lupine technomancer from the cold north...

This already happens in a non-email form (5.00 / 1) (#31)
by skim123 on Sun Feb 10, 2002 at 10:26:20 PM EST

County elections are coming up here in San Diego (or maybe it's city elections, or maybe both...) Anyway, came home to the ol' condo the other day and my door, along with the six other owner's doors, all had 18" color fliers on them from some politician, with his campaign agenda and all.

Rant You may wish to skip this...
It's just as bad as those businesses that place their menues/ads/"specials" under your windshields. I've long vowed to never be a patron for a store that:

  • Wastes paper
  • Makes me take the time to throw away their garbage!

There was a stand-up comedian (Mitch something-or-other) I saw on TV a couple years back who had a joke about those guys who hand out fliers on the streets. They're essentially saying, "Hey, throw this away for me." Look at a place like the Los Vegas strip, where such "ads" are handed out by droves of folks, and all these worthless ads just end up on the street, adding to the city's filth. Argh.

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

Using spam to attract voters | 32 comments (22 topical, 10 editorial, 0 hidden)
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