Townhall technology lets lawmakers talk to masses from DC

Up to 35,000 households can join in on phonecalls with representatives. Not a replacement for trips home, lawmakers say, but a great way to keep the lines open.

Technology that can connect thousands of people on a single phone call is letting US representatives like Kansas' Jerry Moran reach out and touch their constituents without having to leave Washington, the AP reports. A “tele-town hall meeting” lets lawmakers call up to 35,000 households in their district at random by using a special automated dialing system.

“I’m not trying to replace the time I spend in Kansas,” said Moran, a Republican. “But this kind of technology allows me to tie my district together in a way that 69 individual town hall meetings does not.”

Rodney Smith, founder of Washington, D.C.-based Tele-Town Hall, says more than 50 members of Congress have tried the technology over the past year. "It’s like listening to a party line,” Smith said. “People very much enjoy the interaction, the fact that a congressman would call them, the fact that they get a chance to ask a question.”

“The technology is terrific because it allows me to have conversations with constituents in a way that, prior to this, was simply impossible,” said Rep. John Kline, R-Minn. He has conducted eight tele-town hall meetings since hearing about the concept from Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who was the first lawmaker to try the service.

The service costs $2,500 for the first 25,000 answered calls, those that either are picked up by a live person or go to an answering machine or voice mail. Lawmakers pay for the service with the same funds used to set up local town hall meetings.