10DLC texting policy could impact black voter outreach


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The countdown to the midterm elections is on as candidates and groups step up efforts to mobilize voters. But a little-known policy change called 10DLC could make outreach to voters, especially black voters, more difficult this election cycle.

Launched by the country’s major mobile operators, 10DLC is a registration system for entities that send SMS to individuals using a 10-digit long code. As Vox reported, 10DLC refers to the long ten-digit code used for “high volume” text messaging, usually through an app. (Learn more from Vox about the new changes here).

Businesses, nonprofits, political campaigns, and other entities using this type of text messaging must register with the Campaign Registry. According to the outlet, entities that don’t register will face higher fees and slower delivery rates, which could impact efforts to get information to voters quickly.

Democratic political committees, the Congressional Black Caucus PAC and even voting rights groups have attempted to engage cellphone carriers around this issue. Vox noted that while not as vocal, Republican campaigns have also expressed concern about big tech’s overreach.

10DLC policies could impact black voter outreach

In a letter to the CEO of AT&T, on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, Rep. Gregory Meeks highlighted the group’s concerns about 10DLC policies and potential interference with black voter outreach. He noted that black voters in Washington state and North Carolina were four times more likely to have their mail-in ballot rejected than their white counterparts.

Meeks also took issue with AT&T’s 10DLC requirement that people “opt-in” affirmatively to receive text messages from the recipient. A opt-in approach adopted by the State of Georgia for Automatic Voter Registration has seen a significant drop in voter registration after a change last year.

Enabling civic engagement SMS will automatically reduce the pool of eligible voters to contact. Many people don’t know there is information they are missing until it is too late. And given how disproportionately black and other voters of color are impacted by polling place closures and consolidations, “routine roster maintenance,” and signature-matching issues, human rights groups must be able to quickly contact voters so that their voices and votes can be counted.

10DLC should increase transparency without punishing pro-democracy groups

Krishna Godiwala, a political strategist who specializes in texting and other technologies, told NewsOne that at the highest level, 10DLC is meant to increase transparency and take action against bad actors. But there have been issues with how it has been implemented and how information is delivered to people using text messaging as part of their advocacy.

“It was clear that no decision maker had thought about the impact of these policies on very sensitive spaces, like politics, like advocacy,” Godiwala said. “We have been telling carriers and their partners for over a year now that these policies are going to make it easier for bad actors to continue sending their bad messages. And that’s going to make it harder for good actors to reach communities of color.

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But for “good actors” to effectively reach voters, they need clear and consistent information on how to comply with the new 10DLC policies. In his experience working in the political texting space, the rollout of the program has been riddled with misinformation and confusion, which has worried many groups.

“Part of the problem is that each major carrier — when you’re talking Verizon, AT&T, and T-mobile — all have different processes and systems in place,” Godiwala began. “They all have different algorithms for dealing with spam. And so there’s not a lot of clarity on how things are going to be handled. Because ultimately a small handful of people at each of these carriers make the decisions.

Godiwala said the text is a valuable tool for updating people on basic election information and can also help engage voters with a primary language other than English.

Carriers should adopt clear written guidelines and best practices for 10DLC

Jacquelyn Lopez, a voting rights attorney with the Elias Law Group, told NewsOne that part of the problem is the lack of “sufficient information” about the registration process, the standards used to determine whether there is has had a breach and how to resolve any issues discovered. . In her experience, Lopez said she was unable to find consistent written advice on all carriers.

Lopez also stressed that these are policies adopted by mobile carriers, not government agencies. So individual carriers can choose how to apply them without any real standards.

“It’s a huge burden for customers who already have many legal requirements to meet,” Lopez said. “We need to talk to voters about key issues and mobilize. Does not focus on understanding an unwritten policy put forward by a mobile operator. »

Part of the problem is that mobile carriers could freeze service, essentially blocking an organization’s ability to send text messages. It is also unclear what would be the appropriate mechanism to resolve the issue. So a group might be out of luck if it’s a quick response moment or a GOTV event.

Texting is also a great alternative for candidates and voter engagement campaigns to reach potential voters if they have limited funding or other barriers to sending mail or hiring voters. canvassers. While some campaigns don’t follow texting best practices and look more like spam, there are plenty of people who want to engage in the right way.

“Using volunteers to text message with constituents is one of the best tools we have in our toolbox,” Lopez said. “These policies that they are implementing are just going to spell disaster for these efforts.”

People like Lopez and Godiwala hail efforts to combat spam and bad practices in texting. Some best practices that could be adopted under the 10DLC program include providing clear opt-out language, prohibiting texting before or after a specific time, not using links or misleading language and identification of the sender and the organization he represents. Many popular texting campaigns and operations use these best practices.

“For our democracy to live up to its ideals, we must be able to provide voters with accurate, real-time information on how to vote, where to vote, if their polling station has changed, if the hours of opening of their polling station have been extended. , if the guidelines have changed or if a case has arisen that changes their ability to vote,” Lopez explained.

Existing Federal Communications Commission rules distinguish between broadcast messages and person-to-person texts, the latter generally not requiring a potential voter to expressly register. Ultimately, the lack of federal oversight or standardization leaves a major piece of democracy protection to big business. And protecting democracy is not part of their bottom line.

“They’re focused on their own business needs,” Lopez said. “We just want to make sure we find a compromise so that carriers’ goals align with the fundamental First Amendment rights of political entities and candidates to speak to voters and to ensure full and meaningful participation in our democracy.”


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