Writing to Your Legislators

by | April 18th, 2016

Letters and e-mails can be particularly effective in influencing legislators’ views. Writing to legislators also offers an opportunity to maintain contact and keep your issues on the front burner even when you cannot meet personally. Find your two state legislators here! (See also Talking to Legislators Face to Face)

Writing an Effective Letter

KEEP IT BRIEF

 — Keep letters to one page. Try to discuss only one bill or issue in a letter.

IDENTIFY YOURSELF

 — Begin with an introduction of yourself or the organization on whose behalf you are writing. Use a simple statement, such as “I am a third-grade teacher at _______ elementary school” or “On behalf of the members of the ________….” Tell them if you are their constituent and if you voted for them or will be voting in an upcoming election.

BE POLITE

—Even if you’ve disagreed with this legislator in the past, they’ll be more likely to be persuaded if they feel that you are being respectful of them as a fellow human being.

GET TO THE POINT

 — Follow your introduction with a brief statement of your issue or concern, such as “We urge your support for HB_____, which will ________.” If you are writing in reference to a specific bill, include the bill number. Follow your opening paragraph with a concise explanation of why you support or oppose the particular bill or issue. A few strong, well-thought-out arguments are much more effective than a laundry list of reasons to support or oppose a bill. Whenever possible, use bullet points to outline your arguments.

RELATE IT TO HOME

 — Help the legislator understand why your position is important to his or her constituents. Include specific facts about how a bill will impact you and/or people in the legislator’s district. If possible, include a local anecdote illustrating the problem you are seeking to address. Avoid the use of form letters or generic postcards — use your own knowledge and experience to inform the legislator.

REMIND THEM OF YOUR SPECIFIC REQUEST

You want them to know the one important thing from your letter and to take action. Examples: “Can I count on you to reject a bad budget that doesn’t include new revenues?” or “Please oppose HB 2665 for the sake of me and my family.” and be ready to take note of how they vote in order to HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE.

ALLOW FOR FOLLOW-UP

 — Include specific contact information and offer to act as a resource should the legislator or staff have questions or need additional information. Where appropriate, state in the letter that you will follow up with a telephone call. 

THANK THEM FOR THEIR TIME AND FOR SOMETHING MORE SPECIFIC IF YOU CAN.

We’re here to win flies with honey instead of vinegar, right?  (Chances are, if you look on their legislator web page, you can find at least one thing they’ve done that you like.)

Address your letter correctly — See the details on addressing your letter below.

Using E-mail

E-mail can be an easy and effective tool for communicating with legislators. The tips outlined above for writing letters to legislators also apply to e-mails: keep them brief and to the point, with facts and anecdotes relevant to the legislator’s district.

Avoid informal language — E-mail to a legislator should be treated as seriously as a written letter. Resist the temptation to use the informal language and symbols often associated with e-mail communications. Never use impolite language or make “demands”; instead, you can “urge”, “encourage”, or simply “ask” for their support on your issue.

Include your full address and zip code — Make sure the text of your e-mail includes your full name and street address, including zip code. Many legislative offices screen e-mails for address information identifying the sender as a constituent. E-mails that appear to come from outside the district are unlikely to be read and may be blocked by filtering programs.

Addressing Written Correspondence

OKLAHOMA STATE SENATORS

The Honorable (full name)
Oklahoma State Senate
2300 N Lincoln Blvd,
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

OKLAHOMA STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

The Honorable (full name)
Oklahoma State House of Representatives
2300 N Lincoln Blvd # 401,
Oklahoma City, OK 73105

Example letter/email

Dear (Representative ___________ or Senator __________),

Thank you for your time.  I am your constituent, I voted for you (or I will be voting), and I appreciate that you ( ________something they did that you like________).

I am writing to you today because I’d like to ask you to (specific ask such as Vote YAY/Vote NAY for ____bill number___ that would _____bill description_____ because it would ______.)

Please write back to me or you can call me at _____________ to let me know I can count on you to do _____ on this issue.  

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Your constituent,

(your name)
(your address)

You can influence legislators’ views

Remember handwritten letters and personalized emails can show time and consideration. Folks who write letters are also the kind of folks who usually vote, right?  When you write to tell them who you are, why you appreciate them, what is important to you, what you want them to do, and how you are going to follow up, you are making a clear statement that you understand that their job is important to what happens in your daily life. Legislators will often respond to your letter, and even if they don’t agree with you, they take note of how many people write to them expressing opinions about each issue.  Keep track of your correspondence with them the same way you keep track of the way they vote so you can HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE! Find your two state legislators here!

(This blog post was adapted from this source.)