The elected legislator is supposed to be the voice of the people, but what if you can't get in touch with that elected voice?

Having spent the last two years tracking legislation, sending out calls to action, and emailing hundreds of times, I have been astonished by the lackadaisical attitude most of our legislators exhibit toward their constituents.

The state spends millions on computer systems to provide every member with an official or email address, as well as storage space to conduct "official" state business. However, when trying to reach your representative, you may find that they have blocked incoming emails, or are using a wide range of commercial and business email services instead. I've noticed many representatives using Google, Yahoo, AOL, and a variety of business email addresses, with some still using their campaign emails from years ago as their official contact email. There are other elected officials who simply do not check their email addresses at all.

Many commercial email companies use server space in various countries, some of which are not particularly friendly to the U.S. Are our elected officials compromising state business by using these commercial services, conducting official state business on unsecured email accounts?

Most of these services also lack archival mechanisms, making retrieval nearly impossible. Are our legislators bypassing open records and record storage laws by using these services?

I have raised this issue two years in a row, the last time addressing the House speaker and speaker pro tempore, the president of the Senate and the president pro tempore, and the majority and minority leaders of both parties in both houses. The typical response? Silence.

Every department in the state has rules under the Alabama Administrative Code relating to electronic communications. Is it too much to ask that those who spend our money and make our laws follow a few simple rules to make themselves accessible to their constituents? Our representatives are supposed to be our voices in the legislative process. But how can they be if they make it nearly impossible for us to communicate our opinions? Then again, perhaps this lack of accessibility is intentional.

This problem isn't just about email; it extends to phone communication as well. How often have you heard, "The voicemail for the number you are trying to reach is full?"

The fix is a simple one: use the services provided by the state for the business of the state. By doing so, our legislators would be using a standardized system much friendlier for constituents. It would be so much easier to type in or to send our legislators an email.

You cannot fix a broken system if those in charge and within the system are unwilling to listen. We are coming up to the end of another session. Wouldn’t it be great if our legislators took a little time to fix the issue?

Charles “Kip” Kiplinger, Vice President, North Central Alabama Republican Assembly

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