What is a letter to an elected official?
By now you are probably looking for ways to get your issue noticed by people who have the power to help you.
A well-written personal letter may be the most effective way to communicate with elected officials. They want to know how their constituents feel about issues, especially when those issues involve decisions made by them.
Your elected officials usually know what advocacy groups are saying about an issue, but they may not understand how a particular decision affects you. A well-written letter describing your experiences, observations, and opinions may help persuade an official in your favor.
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Why write to elected officials?
Maybe you’re not convinced that writing a letter to your elected official is the best way to spend your time. There are several reasons it’s worth your while, including:
- To explain to an official how a particular issue affects you or your group.
- To express support for a proposed law, policy, or course of action.
- To oppose a proposed law, policy, or course of action.
- To demonstrate to an official that his constituents are aware of an issue and have a real interest in the outcome.
- To inform an official about an issue or situation, giving background and history that she may not have.
- To attempt to persuade an official to vote in a certain way on an issue, or to take other related action.
- To build your reputation as a thoughtful person in the eyes of the officials, and thus make your criticism or support more influential, or to put yourself in the position of the person to be consulted when the official needs information about your issue.
- To request a meeting to discuss the issue or some related matter of concern.
- To thank an official for support given, or action taken.
- To criticize an official for a past vote or action.
- To put an official on notice that you and your group are watching his actions, and that he needs to take your votes into account at election time.
- To ask an official to state her position on a particular issue, or to reveal her voting record.
- To ask for help or support.
This type of letter often falls under the heading of “constituent support,” and concern individual problems with government – being denied military disability payments, for example, or being singled out for harassment by a local official. The reason it’s included in this list is that it can sometimes lead an official to work to change procedures, policies, or laws that discriminate against or make life harder for a whole class of people – veterans, farmers, widows, etc.
When should you write letters to elected officials?
When would you want to write that letter? Whenever an issue arises that concerns your group, but especially when:
- You want an official to consider a certain action or policy (e.g., increasing funding for a program for senior citizens).
- There is an upcoming vote on a policy that concerns your group. Letters are most effective when the vote is about to be taken. This is a good time to use e-mail.
- You want to respond (positively or negatively) to a completed action or a change in policy (e.g., enacting a law that requires people to wear seatbelts).
- You want to point out a deficiency or need in a particular area (e.g. more public transportation to the community health clinics, more police patrols through your neighborhood).
- You need information (e.g. about what happened the last time a certain issue came up for a vote).
- You need advice (how to approach another official, what kind of event will attract large numbers of officials to take notice, etc.). In this instance, you’d probably be writing to an official that you’ve already had positive contact with.
How do you write letters to public officials?
So how do you write letters to public officials, anyhow? We have a number of guidelines that should help you not only write the letter, but increase the chances that it will be actually read and taken seriously.
- Decide on the recipient.
- Open the letter in an official manner.
- Explain the purpose for your letter.
- Summarize your understanding of the issue/decision being considered.
- Explain your position on this issue.
- Describe in detail why you feel the decision made will lead to the impact you foresee.
- Describe what any changes will mean to you, and to others.
- Identify others who may be affected by this decision.
- Acknowledge past support.
- Describe what action you hope the official will take.
- If you have written a letter that opposes some action, offer an alternative.
- If you have time and you are committed, ask how you can help
- Close and sign your letter.
- Check your letter for spelling and grammatical errors.
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