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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

March 5, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Fishy Robocalls — 'tis the season

King County voters received phony robocalls, claiming the Republican caucuses on March 3 were cancelled.

King County voters received phony robocalls that claimed the Republican caucuses on March 3 were cancelled. (Photo by tj scenes/Flickr.com)

Nowadays, robocalling is standard practice for political campaigns. In a presidential election year, almost everyone can expect an automated phone call here and there. This nomination season, voters in contested states, like South Carolina or Ohio, racked up dozens of robotic voice mails. Sometimes it’s Robo-Robert on the other end of the cord, sometimes it’s Barbara Bush. Usually, it’s just annoying.

Nevertheless, setting up an automated phone bank is usually easier than finding flesh-and-blood volunteers. With companies like Republican Robo Calls — who assure the customer they’ve never worked with a Democrat — charging only two to seven cents per call, million dollar campaigns can hardly afford not use them.

Yet for a system supposedly designed to avoid human error, there’s certainly a lot of it. Whether it’s scandalous content, like accusing John McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child in 2000, or just ringing the wrong households, like Rick Santorum phoning Democrats in Michigan, robocalling can be disastrous for both its users and subjects.

The robocalls that peppered Washington state in anticipation of the Republican caucus had their share of trickery as well.

A man from Green Acres, Spokane, received a robocall masquerading as a poll for candidate preferences. Having just come from a Rick Santorum event, the man pressed the button corresponding to the former Pennsylvania senator. The mechanical voice on the other end immediately listed four reasons not to vote for Santorum. The Spokane voter was not pleased. A day later, voters in King County received phone calls claiming Saturday’s caucus were cancelled. The Washington state GOP is still investigating their origin.

Hmm. Smells fishy.

At the end of the day, robocalls may be an efficient way to quickly reach out to a broad populace, but not everyone is playing fair.

Comments | Topics: Barbara Bush, campaign oddities, Caucuses

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