Editorial: Getting texts from political campaigns? You’re not alone

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The flood of political text message in this year’s election has gotten out of control.

Normally, voters see TV and online advertisements as well as receive some flyers in the mail and phone calls from candidates or parties asking you to vote. Emails long ago were added to the mix.

All of those things are still happening this year, but campaigns seemingly have added text messages to their arsenal of tools this year unlike any before. That buzzing in your pocket or notification on your smartwatch isn’t a friend or family member checking in. Just a political campaign or partisan group.

“Hey babe, any ideas what I should grab for dinner” quickly gets interrupted by, “When Biden hid in his basement, President Trump acted with decisive leadership. Reply “MAGA” if you agree we need a president who fights for us.”

You’re trying to ask whether it’s your turn to pick up the kids when, “There are less than 2 weeks left to vote in this election. Less than 2 weeks to choose our nation’s future. Can we count on you to remind 3 friends to vote for Biden by Nov. 3rd?”

Some messages include images with text on them. Others attack a specific candidate, occasionally also offering up a contrast with the party the sender is working for. Groups not directly affiliated with a candidate have also been among text message senders and pushing information hoping to sway your opinion.

Talk to someone who’s voted before, and he or she has probably received text messages this year. Chances are that the person isn’t particularly thrilled to be receiving political campaign messages on their phone.

Candidates obtained your phone number from a third party and hope that their efforts will prompt you to vote for their candidate. Campaigns do not have an incentive to dial back the political text messages, particularly when their opponent may be doing the same thing or when it may reach voters who otherwise tune out political advertising.

The Federal Communications Commission exempts campaign calls and texts from the Do Not Call List requirements. But there are some rules, including that calls or texts cannot be autodialed to cellphones (a computer sending out the same text message to hundreds or thousands of cellphones, for example) without the called party’s express consent. Text messages can be sent without consent if they are sent manually.

That political campaign texts can be sent doesn’t mean they shouldn’t face additional rules. And if there’s any place where Republicans and Democrats, already bitterly divided, might be able to reach a bipartisan compromise, we’d hope that it could involve raising additional barriers to entry for campaigns of all partisan persuasions.

For starters, because text messages cannot be autodialed, senders should have to clearly identify themselves at the start of a conversation. The sender also should clearly identify which campaign he or she is affiliated with. There may be pitfalls to making campaigns abide by the Do Not Call List, but peace and quiet wouldn’t be one of them.

If the text is just a friend hoping to talk politics, that’s fine, but political campaigns seem to be repeat offenders this year, and their prevalence and annoyance will only grow once down-ballot candidates adopt the practice, too.