Writing letters to your elected representatives are an integral part of the political process. Every day, different issues of interest come up for consideration on Capitol Hill and in daily life; some controversial, some mundane. As a concerned citizen, it is your prerogative to reach out to your elected representatives regarding the issues that affect you. Writing letters to legislators can be an effective way to voice your concerns, demand action, propose ideas, submit petitions, or even simply express gratitude on a relevant topic.
What you need to know about writing a letter to your Senator
The United States operates a bicameral parliamentary system, meaning they have two kinds of legislators. A Senator is a member of the Senate. There are two Senators for each state, elected for six years at a time. A Representative is a member of the House of Representatives. Representatives are informally called congressmen. Together, the senators and congressmen constitute Congress.
The average Member of Congress (representative) represents about 700,000 people and Senators represent several million.
You must understand though that a Member of Congress will receive several hundred pieces of correspondence (letters, e-mails, phone calls, faxes, and personal visits) in a week from constituents, lobbyists, the government, other legislators, etc. where there’s a particularly controversial issue under consideration, that number can easily rise to thousands. One cannot expect a Congressman to respond personally to all that correspondence. Every Member of Congress hires a staffer, known as a Legislative Correspondent. It is their job to receive, sort, and respond to every communication. Their goal is to respond to every constituent who contacts the office, unless of course the contents of the letter are irrelevant.
Most correspondents will usually aim for a communication to be received, filed, and responded to no more than two weeks from the date of receipt – less than one week if they had a form response ready for a major topic for example, immigration reform, budget, health care, education, etc).
Here, we will talk about writing letters to our elected Senators.
Because legislators receive so much mail on a weekly basis, it is important that you ensure your letter is well composed and clearly written in order to gain the kind of response you would like.
Some general tips to follow when writing a letter to your Senator.
- Ensure your letter is properly addressed. Be sure to include your full return address on the main letter as well as on the envelope. In the process of delivery and sorting, correspondence can easily get mixed up. If you want to be responded to, you must make sure that your letter is fully and properly addressed.
- Be sure to date your letter.
- In addition to the return address, use appropriate terminology to address you Senator. Use his title and his last name- ‘Dear Senator Johnson’ will suffice. Use the honorific ‘The Honorable’ when addressing an envelope to a state senator, followed by his full name. For example “The Honorable Joe Smith”.
- Introduce yourself and go directly to the topic you would like to address. Make sure you clearly state your issue and include all relevant details necessary to easily understand your point(s). For instance, if you are addressing a Bill on which you would like the Senator to take action, be sure to state the Bill’s full name and number.
- If your letter is a call to action, be sure to state clearly exactly what you would like the Senator to do.
- Don’t jumble issues. Your letter should address a singular issue. Also, keep things brief. Preferably, your letter should be no longer than a page.
- Request for a response in your letter.
- Thank the Senator for his time at the conclusion of the letter.
Below are samples of letters. The first is a constituent’s appeal to their Senator to vote a certain way on a Bill. The second is another constituent’s appeal concerning an education issue affecting their community.
There is no rule mandating representatives to respond to mails but conscientious legislators will do their best to ensure that the mail gets an appropriate response within good time.
Remember that the average Member of Congress represents about 700,000 people and Senators represent several million. Every letter received represents about 50 people who aren’t voicing their opinion for whatever reason. So if only a handful of constituents write in to express an opinion or advocate for an issue, that might only represent a few hundred people – barely a fraction of the constituency. It is important that you write and encourage others to write in to Congress, as that will increase your chances of being noted.