CARSON CITY — Secretary of State Ross Miller heard so many complaints from angry people bombarded by political calls before Nevada’s Jan. 19 caucus that he decided to do something about it.
On Wednesday he launched a voluntary “Please Don’t Call” registry that allows voters to tell political campaigns they don’t want to receive their calls.
“I know people who were called eight times the night before the caucus from the same campaign,” Miller said.
The secretary of state’s program is patterned after the national Do Not Call registry that prevents telemarketers from calling residents with sales offers. Violators of the federal registry face $11,000 fines.
In approving the national registry in 2003, Congress exempted political speech because of concerns such a restriction would violate the First Amendment.
State political party leaders and others questioned Wednesday whether Miller’s no-political-calls list will be effective.
Patrick Davis, executive director of Common Sense Issues, a conservative lobbying group, said his employees used sources other than the secretary of state’s voter registration database when they made 546,000 calls to Nevadans on behalf of Republican Mike Huckabee.
“We operate in Nevada, as we do in all states, under the federal law that allow us under the First Amendment to communicate with citizens about issues we think are important,” he added.
Zach Moyle, executive director of the state Republican Party, said his organization doesn’t use the secretary of state’s voter registration database in campaigns either.
“Our vender maintains its own list,” he said. “There is not just one list out there that candidates use.”
State Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said Democratic candidates share lists and acquire voter registration information and telephone numbers from numerous sources.
“There is no guarantee people won’t get calls even with the secretary’s list,” Searer said.
She added that the party often calls voters to tell them where to vote, how to acquire absentee ballots and how to participate in early voting.
Before the caucuses Searer said the state Democratic Party phoned some voters to tell them that previously announced locations for their caucuses had been changed.
The secretary of state maintains a statewide registry of registered voters. Politicians can acquire the registry and use it in their campaigns.
Miller cannot force political campaigns to honor voters’ requests to not be called. But he thinks most politicians will voluntarily not call voters who enter their names on the “Please Don’t Call” list.
“Why would they waste time and resources contacting people who are outraged by their calls when they can get a clean list of people who haven’t opted out?,” Miller said.
Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, called Miller’s plan a bad idea.
“If you don’t want political calls, don’t answer the phone or hang up,” he said.
While Miller avoids interfering with candidates’ free speech rights by not ordering them to comply with the list, Peck said it is a step in the wrong direction.
“People don’t want to get these calls, but they are part of the price of democracy. When people walk down the street, someone may hand them literature they don’t want or ask them to sign a petition they don’t want. When you live in a democracy, you take free speech seriously.”
Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel @reviewjournal.com or (775) 687-3901.ON THE WEB
Voters can place themselves on the secretary of state’s “Please Don’t Call” list by visiting the secretary of state’s Web site at silverstate08.com. Click on the “My Voter File” link and indicate you don’t want political calls.