Elected officials at the local, state, and federal level are responsible for representing the interests of their constituents. In order to know your interests, your elected officials must hear from you!
Tips for writing your email
Because of time-consuming security precautions, it takes weeks or months for a letter to reach a Member of Congress, regardless of how it is mailed. Instead, you should send your letter electronically by typing it directly on their website or by emailing your representative and/or senators. Keep in mind that public officials, especially those at the federal level, receive thousands of emails and online letters each week. Many won’t even read emails from people who are not their constituents- so make sure to say you are one of their constituents! Here are some tips to help get your letter noticed (click the tip to expand):
Focus your letter on one issue or legislative proposal. If possible, mention a specific bill that you would like your representatives to support or oppose. The first step is to ask them to co-sponsor the legislation (unless it’s a budget or appropriations bill). If the legislator is on the Congressional Committee where the bill will be debated in a “mark up”, ask them to vote for or against the bill or a specific amendment or amendments. If it is coming up for a vote in the entire House or the Senate, ask them to vote for or against the bill or amendment when it comes “to the floor for a vote.” If you are not sure of the name or number of a bill, or whether it has been “marked up” in Committee, you can find a list and the current status of bills before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives at http://www.congress.gov/. You can also use that website to check if your legislator has already signed on to co-sponsor the bill. If so, be sure to still write and thank them if you like the bill, or ask them to reconsider if you don’t!
Try to limit your letter to one page or less. If your letter is over two pages, it may not be read carefully or completely.
The adage “you catch more flies with honey” is especially true when writing to a Member of Congress or other legislator. Try to avoid vulgar or sarcastic language, threats, emotional or irrational arguments, or any kind of personal attacks. You can strongly disagree or express or disappointment without sounding mean-spirited, violent, or crazy. Venting your frustration may feel good to you, but it will do no good and may make it difficult to be effective in the future.
Legislators are elected to care for the concerns of their constituents, so explain how this issue will affect you, your family or your community. Use personal examples of how this issue or similar proposals have impacted your community in the past.
Elected officials tend to consult the “experts” for advice on certain issues, so use your letter to deliver expert research to them. If possible, cite credible reports and studies, local and national think tanks or investigative task forces.
Make it Easy to Read
Type or write very neatly. Letters that are difficult to decipher are usually not read carefully. A letter that looks and sounds good will be taken more seriously than one that is sloppy or badly written. Avoid anything unusual, such as overuse of capital letters (it makes it look like you are shouting) or brightly colored ink or paper. What seems quirky or fun to you might be perceived as unprofessional, weird, or worse by Members of Congress or their staff.
Try offering alternative solutions to the problems addressed in your letter. If you have ideas, share them. You can also endorse the solutions recommended by the reports or experts you have already cited.
Send a Personal Email
Most elected officials are overloaded with email, so they are unlikely to read a copy of a letter to someone else. In addition, if you send a email that is “cc’ed” to many other people, it will be assumed that you don’t know what you are doing.
Include Your Name and Address
Elected officials generally try to respond to email from their constituents, so always be sure to include your name and address in your letter.
If you write to the same person too often, you will get an unflattering reputation. Two or three times a year is probably the limit, unless you have a close relationship with the legislator or staff. Also, be sure you know what you’re talking about: don’t write to a Senator about a bill that has only been introduced in the House, or vice versa, unless you are asking them to sponsor the bill.
Finding your Congress person’s email address
You can find email addresses and phone numbers for your U.S. Congressional representatives at http://www.contactingthecongress.org/. The President’s email address is email@example.com.
Even though this is email, you should start the email as you would a formal letter. For example:
Dear Senator LASTNAME:
House of Representatives:
Dear Representative LASTNAME:
Dear President LASTNAME:
Contacting state and local officials
The tips are also useful when writing to your state and local elected officials. You can find out how to contact your state and local officials about state and local issues at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials or your local library for representative addresses and information about state and local issues. Additional state government directories can be found on the Library of Congress website at http://www.loc.gov/rr/news/stategov/stategov.html.