Survey says Congress should get online

The ease and speed of e-mail has made it the second most popular way for Internet users to contact members of Congress, according to an online survey. Although regular old snail mail remains the most commonly used method of communication with lawmakers—even for Internet users.

Forty percent of the Internet users who were asked about their e-mail usage in the survey said they had contacted their senators or representatives by e-mail. Forty-five percent said they had contacted their lawmakers by letter.

Juno Online Services Inc., an Internet and e-mail service provider, and e-advocates, an Internet advocacy consulting firm, conducted the survey from Nov. 5 to Dec. 7. The poll was intended to help assess the importance of the Internet in citizen participation in the political process.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they would use e-mail in the future if they wanted to contact their representatives. Only 25 percent said they would prefer to mail a letter.

Telephones and fax machines proved to be far less popular. Only 11 percent of respondents said they would phone, and 2 percent said they would fax their members of Congress. Three percent said they would visit their congressmen in person on Capitol Hill.

The responses reflect the preferences of a narrow but expanding segment of American society. "All [the respondants] are wired, and all are Juno subscribers," said Roger Stone, director of Juno Advocacy Network, Juno's public interest and political advertising division based in Washington, D.C. "They tend to be voters," he added. Only 28 percent indicated that they had never tried to contact their members of Congress.

Juno and e-advocates hope the survey results will convince members of Congress to become more accessible online and more receptive to e-mail from constituents.

Too many members of Congress still do not have e-mail addresses, Stone said. In fact, there are 25 members of Congress who provide no means for voters to communicate with them electronically, he said. Another 200 members of Congres enable voters to contact them by filling out a form on a World Wide Web page, but not by sending e-mail. The Web forms "force citizens to limit communication with their elected officials," Juno and e-advocates contend.

Eighty-one percent of the poll respondents said it was "very important" for members of Congress to accept e-mail, and 93 percent said elected representatives should take e-mail as seriously as they take letters and phone calls.

Stone said he did not have evidence that e-mail is given secondary consideration. "Most indications are that most members do take e-mail seriously, as long as it is signed" by the sender, he said.

According to e-advocates, almost half of U.S. adults now use the Internet, which makes e-mail the fastest and cheapest way for citizens to communicate with their elected representatives.

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