WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Political campaigns are reaching out to voters directly through text messages, often addressing recipients by their first names, and the practice is ruffling feathers.
“It’s not like I don’t get enough of them through email and through YouTube and everywhere else, right?” Alex Perez said. “And it just feels like taking advantage of something that wasn’t meant for that purpose.”
Perez has gotten an few campaign texts over the last few months, many of them from candidates in local races. He wouldn’t mind as much if it were something he opted into, but the unsolicited messages rub him the wrong way.
“My immediate response was an emotional one of frustration,” Perez said.
A north Texas man was so annoyed by the messages, he filed a class-action lawsuit last wek against the U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, for texting him several times.
The campaign said it’s following the law by using volunteers to write the texts. Under Federal Communications Commission rules, campaigns are prohibited from issuing “robotexts,” which use autodialing to send mass text messages. But, there is no language in the rules preventing individual volunteers from sending messages to individual numbers.
The practice is not limited to O’Rourke; KXAN reviewed messages from Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign, as well as those from a local city council candidate, candidates for the state legislature, the Bastrop County Democratic Party and a candidate for Williamson County clerk.
“What’s actually happening is they’re taking data they can get from any source with cell phone numbers and trying them out,” said Andy Hogue, communications director for the Travis County Republican Party.
He said the TCRP doesn’t send out texts — yet. They’re a way for campaigns to target young voters who prefer texting to phone calls or mailers.
“One way or another we’re going to have to find a way to reach people who actively use text messaging,” he said.
There are a number of sources campaigns can tap for cell numbers. For one, if you list your cell on your voter registration, that becomes public record and anyone can request it.
Campaigns will also buy lists of cell numbers that other groups or companies compile. Hogue said some will even buy from failed past campaigns that are trying to pay down debt. Basically, if your cell number is out in the world, campaigns can find it and text it.
Hogue’s advice is to guard your cell number and only give it to the people who need it. If you get an unwanted message, your best bet is not to reply.
“If you respond, keep in mind, you’re flagged,” Hogue said. “You’re an active respondent. You have a cell phone number and you’re a little interested in politics.”
Perez, the tech worker who’s been getting political texts, deletes them as soon as he gets them. He says that kind of unsolicited message won’t get him to vote for any candidate, but the broader political world will have to wait until Nov. 6 to see if the tactic turns out voters en masse.
Hopefully “eventually someone will be like, this is stupid and it’s not working,” Perez said. “Or maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll just keep trying it.”