Automated-call glitch rekindles national debate on political speech tactics

Pissing off voters is the last thing you want to do if you are trying to get elected. But potentially thousands of voters were just that in Kentucky this week as they were repeatedly blitzed by out of control automated call distribution (ACD) software asking them to vote for Republican candidate for Governor Anne Northup. In addition, calls were supposed to stop by 9 p.m., but they kept coming till 10:30 in some cases and some people reported getting more than eight calls in a very short time period.  The culprit was a software glitch at Conquest Communications Group of Richmond, Va., the telemarketer used by Northup, according to an article in Kentucky’s Lexington Herald-Leader today.  "I have apologized to the Northup campaign and we apologize to each and every person who was inconvenienced," Dick Gresham, a partner at Conquest Communications told the Herald-Leader. The Northup campaign has also apologized. The calls may have been just the last straw for many voters who have been caught in the middle of in an ACD or robo-call war in the past few days as the governor’s race in that state heats up. But the glitch and its fallout are likely to further heat up an already hot national topic: should politicians be able to use ACD or robo-calls without any controls.  The answer in many cases ha been no. Nebraska’s legislature this week gave final approval to a bill that would restrict to two the number of automated calls each campaign could make each day to a resident. Also, the calls could only be made between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.According to an Associated Press story, the Nebraska bill comes on the heels of a controversial campaign tactic used last year in Nebraska that also has been used in other states. Last fall, in his race against eventual winner Adrian Smith, Democratic Congressional candidate Scott Kleeb's offices were flooded with complaints from people upset about receiving repeated, automated phone calls with poor-quality recordings of Kleeb's voice.New Jersey, Florida, Michigan and other states are looking at ways of curbing the political calls. And according to a survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, an independent research group, two-thirds of registered voters nationwide received the recorded phone messages last year prompting federal officials to now considering restrictions.

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