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Would a little robo relief be too much to ask?

April 16, 2012

We understand the right of free expression. We, too, understand the right of political speech and the very high bar that exists when it comes to suppressing any aspect of that speech.

Robocalls, in our view, clear that bar with some to spare.

We do not argue with a politician’s right to engage in a robocall campaign. But we believe that a resident should have the right to opt out, just as it’s possible to register on a Do Not Call list to block telemarketers.

It doesn’t help that, as any registered voter with a land line knows by now, robocalls have become synonymous with slime. Respected former officeholders such as Kristin Aleshire and Donald Munson believe that negative robocalls had some degree of impact on their unsuccessful re-election efforts two years ago. While they were reluctant to say that robocalls affected the final results, it’s hard to believe that these assaults by phone did not produce results, as does all negative advertising. If they didn’t, the method would not be employed.

Further, as we saw in the most recent County Commissioner race, no one need claim “credit” for the obnoxious calls. The state attorney general was not interested in pursuing the anonymous person or persons who perpetuated an anti-Aleshire call that was dishonest at best, illegal at worst. Robocallers know they are unlikely to be held responsible for their actions.

But it’s not the message we are as concerned with as the delivery vehicle. An unwelcome candidate would not be permitted to knock on your door — and then stay there. Free speech or no, he would be guilty of trespass. No politician could camp outside your kitchen window with a bullhorn without subjecting himself to nuisance laws.

To many, robocalls are a trespass, a nuisance and invasion of the peace and sanctity of one’s own home. A politician has a right to get the message out, but a person in a private residence has just as much right not to be bothered.

We would also think the politicians would appreciate an opt-out robocall policy; more than one person has suggested that he or she is just as likely to specifically vote against the next candidate who calls.

One robocall here or there would not be cause for a call to action. But, just as in their spending habits, politicians cannot be counted upon to control their own excesses. Calls concerning the recent 6th District race got entirely out of hand. And to our mind they have now reached the point where, since politicians are unable to control their own behavior, someone needs to step in and give voters an option to not be subjected to the excess.

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