You are here - OLRC Home   |   Site Index   |   Contact Us
Ohio Literacy Resource Center LOGO Line

What Does It Mean To Be A Citizen In A Democracy?

PART TWO: Communicating With Elected Officials
The leaders of our country are elected officials. They are made leaders because people vote for them to do the job. Leaders work for the people. That means that we, the people, must communicate with them about what to do. We must let our elected officials know what we think.

Elected officials listen when people who vote for them talk. They want and need to hear from you. You have the right to communicate with elected officials who represent you. But many people do not. Some people feel afraid or do not know how to tell their elected officials what they think. The information that follows will help you communicate with your elected officials.
You will find tips for how to:

  • write a letter
  • pay a visit
  • make a phone call
  • speak at a meeting
  • Why Communicate with Your Elected Officials? There are many reasons to communicate with your elected officials. You may want to:
  • thank them for something they have done.
  • ask them to take some sort of action.
  • let them know how you feel about concerns such as education, crime, taxes or the environment.
  • But even before you can think of a reason to write, visit, or call your elected officials, you must be informed about what they are doing.

    Being an informed citizen is always important. It is important for making an informed vote. And, it is important for keeping track of the legislative process. The tips in Part One about making an informed vote can also help you stay informed about what your elected officials are doing now. Remember:

  • Think about what matters to you.
  • Find out what your elected officials are doing about these concerns. Look in newspapers and magazines. Listen to news shows on the radio and TV. Attend meetings where officials speak or work, such as school board meetings, and other town meetings. Talk to other informed citizens.
  • Letters It has been said that the only letter that has no impact is the one that is not written. One of the best ways to let elected officials know what you think is to write a letter. Elected officials can be influenced by peoples' feelings, thoughts and stories. The following tips will help you write your own letter.

    Be neat
    Make sure your letter is easy to read. You can write it by hand or type it.

    Write the greeting of the letter.
    For example:

  • Dear Senator Smith
  • Dear Representative Smith
  • Dear Mayor Smith
  • Dear Governor Smith
  • Dear President Smith

    Get right to the point.
    In the first few sentences, say

  • who you are,
  • where you are from, and
  • why you are writing.

    Stick to one issue per letter.
    For example, you may write:

  • to state your support for issues such as health care, the environment, national defense, and so on;
  • to thank an elected official for something he or she has done; or
  • to say that you are for or against a certain bill.

    Support your point.
    Use the rest of the letter to tell your thoughts, story, and/or ideas. Make the letter personal to you.

    Be clear
    Tell the elected official what you would like him or her to do. For example, if you are writing about a bill, say if you want your elected official to vote for or against it.

    Be polite
    Do not preach or scold.

    Keep it short
    Limit your letter to one page.

    If you are writing about a bill, know the facts.
    If you are writing about a national bill, know the number of it and where it is in Congress. If the bill is in the United States House of Representatives it is called a House bill and has a number like this: HR 1234. If the bill is in the United States Senate it is called a Senate bill and has a number like this: S.1234. To find out where a national bill is in the legislative process, call the Bill Status Office: (202) 225-1772.

    If you are writing about a state bill, find out where it is in the Ohio General Assembly. If the bill is in the Ohio House of Representatives, it will be called by a number like this: HB: 1234. If the bill is in the Ohio Senate, it will be called by a number like this: SB: 1234. To find out where a state bill is in the legislative process in Ohio, call Ohio Legislative Information: 1-800-282-0253.

    Source: "Questions to Ask", Voluntary Action Center, United Way of Mass. Bay

    Know the name and address of the elected official to whom you want to write.

    National

    The Honorable (full name)
    United States Senate
    Washington, DC 20510
    The Honorable (full name)
    United States House of Representatives
    Washington, DC 20515
    If you have any questions about where to send your letter, call Legislative Information: 1-800-688-9889, ext. 9.

    Ohio

    The Honorable (full name)
    Ohio Senate
    Senate Office Building
    Columbus, OH 43215-4211
    The Honorable (full name)
    Ohio House of Representatives
    77 S. High Street
    Columbus, OH 43266-0603
    If you have any questions about where to send your letter in Ohio, call Legislative Information: 1-800-282-0253.

    For information that will help you contact the elected officials in your city or town, check your telephone book.

    SAMPLE LETTER

    The Honorable John Doe
    United State Senate
    Washington, DC 20510

    Dear Senator Doe,
    My name is Jane Smith and I live in Anytown. I am writing to urge you to help keep laws to make sure our water stays clean. I have three children. Their health is very important to me. I am afraid that without laws people will dump chemicals and other poisons in lakes and rivers. This could harm people and animals too.
    Please vote in favor of S. 9999 when it comes to a vote in the Senate. That law will make sure that bodies of water can't be polluted.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.

    Sincerely,
    Jane Smith

    Personal Visits Meeting with an elected official is a good way to communicate on a personal level. It makes the point that real people like you are interested in the choices that are made about your city, state, or country. Tips on the next few pages will help you before, during, and after your meeting with elected officials.

    Setting up the meeting
    Call the elected official's office to set up a meeting time. If you are not able to meet with the elected official in person, you should get a chance to meet with a person who works for her or him This staff person will let the elected official know what you said.

    To find the phone number of the elected official that you want to meet with, call Legislative Information:

    For national elected officials:
    1-800-688-9889 ext. 9

    For Ohio elected officials:
    1-800-282-0253

    For elected officials in your city and town, check your telephone book.

    Before you go...
    Make sure the elected official you will be meeting with knows why you want to meet. You can tell the person you speak with on the telephone to set up the meeting why you want to talk to the official. Also, let the elected official know who will be at the meeting. If you are going with other people, let the elected official know their names.

  • Choose a spokesperson. If you are going with other people, choose one person to speak for all of you. Make sure you all agree on what he or she should say.
  • Plan to talk about only one topic.
  • Know the facts about that topic. For example, if you want to talk about adult education, know things such as how many students are in your program. If you are talking about a bill, know the number of the bill. (See page 16 for help with this.)
  • Put together a one-page summary of your main points. You can leave this with the elected official after your meeting.
  • Practice what you want to say in the meeting. Time yourself. Make sure you can say everything in 5 minutes.

    At the meeting...

  • Introduce yourself. If there are other people with you, introduce them as well.
  • Thank the elected official for making the time to meet with you.
  • Get right to the point. In your first few sentences say why you are there. Be brief, simple, and straight-forward.
  • Listen to what the elected official has to say.
  • If the elected official asks you a question that you do not know the answer to, say so. Say that you will find the answer and write back to him or her.
  • Before you leave, sum up your main point.
  • Thank the elected official. Offer to leave a summary of your main points.

    After the meeting...

  • Write a thank you note.
  • Send any information that you said you would. Telephone Calls
    Telephone calls are a good way to communicate with an elected official if you need to make your point quickly. For example, if you want to tell your elected official how you feel about a bill that is about to be voted on, you might want to call her or him
  • Just like with a letter or a personal visit, it is a good idea to prepare before you take action. The tips below will help you do that.
  • If you are calling about a certain bill, know its name and number. (See page 16 for help. )
  • If the bill is in the Senate then try to talk to your Senator. If the bill is in the House of Representatives, try to talk to your representative. To find out who your national and state Senators and Representatives are, call Legislative Information. (See the box at the bottom of this page.)
  • Sometimes the elected official cannot come to the phone when you call. If this is the case, ask to speak to the elected official's staff person, who is taking calls about the bill.
  • State your point right away. Be clear about how you want your elected official to act.
  • Be prepared to support your point if asked to do so.
  • If no one is there to take your call, leave a short but clear message.

    For national elected officials: 1-800-688-9889 ext.9
    For Ohio elected officials: 1-800-282-0253
    Local Meetings A good way to communicate with your elected officials is to go to meetings where they will be. School board meetings, neighborhood association meetings, and other types of town meetings give citizens the chance to speak up. The tips below will help you prepare for speaking out at a meeting.

    Before you go..

  • Call ahead to see if you have to sign up to speak. Different meetings have different rules.
  • Prepare to stick to one issue.
  • Organize your thoughts. Be prepared to defend them. In order to do this, you need to know the facts about your topic.

    During your speech...

  • Speak clearly.
  • State your point right away. Keep the time limit in mind if there is one.
  • Be polite. Don't scold or preach.
  • If you are asked a question to which you do not know the answer, say so. Offer to find out the answer and get back with the person later. Program Visits Another way to communicate with elected officials about local issues is to invite them to come to you. For example, if you are concerned about funding for a program in your community, you might want to invite an elected official to visit that program. That way the official can see what the program is doing and how people are benefiting from it.

    Next: Volunteering



    Back Return to the OLN main page.





    Return to the Top of the Page Return to the Top
    Fast Facts on Literacy (Refresh to see another fact)

    Ohio Literacy Resource Center - Celebrating 10 Years of Enhancing Adult Literacy 1993-2003 This page http://literacy.kent.edu/Oasis/Resc/Educ/vote2.html
    and is maintained by the OLRC WWW Development Team.