Mass office calling is a light lift, but it can actually have an impact. A single constituent’s call may not make much of an impact, but multiple calls from constituents coordinated on a single topic is sure to be noticed. In contrast to your experiences calling your federal representative, you’ll rarely get a busy signal and you might find that the person who answers has the time to have a full conversation with you rather than just registering your opinion in a database. Because state legislators are really not used to hearing much from their constituents and state legislative offices are not heavily staffed, it takes much fewer calls to get noticed. We have been told by state legislative staff that little as 100 calls on a single day could literally shut down a legislator’s office in California. For states with less staff, even fewer calls could have enormous impact!
When to Call
For in-person events, you want to prepare a host of questions, but for calls, keep it simple. You and your group should all agree to call in on one specific issue that day. It is most effective to coordinate large numbers of calls for bills at strategic timepoints. There are two good times to call a representative about a bill:
Right before a vote: One hundred constituent calls trickling in over the course of a month has less impact than the same number of calls in one work day near the vote. Whether the vote is in committee or on the floor, calling just before a vote demonstrates that you are knowledgeable and watching. They are also much more likely to remember your call since the vote is upcoming.
Right after a vote: If your representative didn’t do what you wanted, call to let their staff know how disappointed you are that they are not representing your interests.
What to Call About
The most important thing is to be specific. Tell your representative exactly how you want them to vote on a specific bill or give them a concrete idea for a piece of new legislation. This gives you leverage to hold them accountable. Don’t make vague requests like “I want the Senator to protect the environment.” There is no way to measure whether or not they did what you asked. On the other hand if you say something like “I want the Senator to vote yes on SB 100 that would advance our renewable energy standards in committee tomorrow,” you will have a concrete way to hold your representative accountable.
Writing a Call Script
An easy way to encourage your group members to participate in your call campaign is to provide them with a pre-written script. This lowers the barrier to participate and can ease the nerve of folks who are hesitant to make calls. Your script should be brief and include who you are, where you are from, and a clear and strong ask.