Here’s the Best Way to Contact Your Elected Officials
With the incoming Trump administration and a brand-new Congress sitting in January, it’s a good time to brush up on one of your most fundamental and important rights: contacting elected officials.
Elected officials are accountable to all citizens under their care — no matter who they vote for, what their political beliefs are or whether they’re even allowed to vote.
Their job is to make sure that the interests of all people are accounted for when developing legislation, making or confirming political appointees and deciding on priorities for their offices — so get heard!
You can use this immensely useful tool to locate all your federal and state officials and get their contact information.
That includes not just the president but also your senators and congresspeople, as well as the members of your state house.
For local officials, check out your county or parish website. Your city website should list members of the board of supervisors and/or city council, along with appointees — like the chief of police and members of the planning commission.
While some people focus on federal officials, your state and local officials are actually super important, and you can do incredibly valuable advocacy on the local level. For example, you could ask your police chief and mayor about the police department’s use of force policy.
You may have received some contradictory information on how best to contact elected officials, so take some advice straight from the keyboard of a former congressional intern: Yes, the way you contact elected officials matters — and so does who you contact.
Let’s start with the “who”
When you’re reaching out to government officials, you should focus on your own elected officials.
The president and vice-president are accountable to everyone in the United States, but members of Congress from outside your district or state actually don’t have to respond to you. Their staffers generally won’t count your comments in tallies of input from the public, but as a courtesy, they may pass them on to your own representative.
You can totally drop a congressperson an appreciative line, but if you seek action, focus on your district’s representatives.
Now to the “how”
If you can, walk into a district or main office. It’s a fantastic way to get the attention of staffers, and you can often have a very productive, interesting conversation.
If that’s not an option, call — starting with the district or main office closest to you.
When it comes to federal officials, district offices are often more familiar with the issues specific to your area, and the staffers typically come from your community. Calling is highly effective and weighted more seriously than letters or email — sorry!
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media outlets don’t count, unless specifically indicated otherwise — as, for example, when people are invited to submit questions via a government website.
If you’re not a big phone person, make a little script for yourself. You only have to stay on the phone for a few minutes, long enough to say:
My name is ____. I live in ____ and am a constituent of Senator/Congressperson/Mayor/Supervisor _____. I am concerned about _____ and would like to register my support for/opposition to/propose that you ____. Thank you.
The staffer should thank you for your time, and they may ask for your zip code to confirm where you live.
Public meetings — including regularly scheduled events like city council meetings, community forums sponsored by officials and hearings — are another fantastic way to reach officials and network with your community.
Some meetings have an open comment period where constituents can bring up anything they like, while others focus on specific issues and you are welcome to add your comments. Your statements go on record and are considered by the people holding the meeting. If you can’t make it, submit a letter to the agency or officials holding the meeting and ask for it to be included in the formal testimony.
And, critically, the “what”
Always contact an elected official with something concrete. Instead of saying “I am concerned about immigration,” pick a specific issue, like a proposed policy or bill to bring up. The more concrete you are, the better the staffer will be able to serve you.
The vast majority of staffers are friendly, hardworking people who care about constituents — even when they have political views that differ from those of their employers. Their job is to dispassionately pass along all input from the public, not to judge people who contact the office.
Some work very closely with constituents to help resolve issues and are passionate about their jobs: Did you know you can ask a congressperson or senator for help if you’re having a problem with a federal agency like the Veterans Administration?
However, there are always a few bad apples — and bad days. You may encounter someone who is rude to you, but that’s not the standard of behavior for political staffers. Don’t let it put you off — simply mention it in a formal complaint.
Photo credit: U.S. Embassy New Delhi