Originally created 12/22/99


WASHINGTON -- Send electronic mail to Rep. Johnny Isakson of Marietta or Rep. Sanford Bishop of Albany, and you just might get a personal reply from the congressmen.

Log on to an Internet chat with Rep. Charlie Norwood of Augusta or Rep. Bob Barr of Smyrna, and you can get your questions answered directly.

Click on Mr. Barr's official site on the World Wide Web, and you can sign up for e-mail alerts on the particular issues that interest you. Or surf over to the Senate Republican Conference Web site and watch Sen. Paul Coverdell's news conferences.

Increasingly, Georgia lawmakers are turning to the Internet and e-mail to communicate with their constituents, often using the technology to deliver their messages directly to voters without having it filtered by the news media.

"The Internet promises to be a powerful tool for democracy," said Mr. Barr, a Smyrna Republican. "The medium is already starting to break the media's stranglehold over political news."

Georgia voters also are using the Internet in rapidly increasing numbers to let their elected representatives know quickly, and inexpensively, exactly what they're thinking about any number of issues before Congress.

The Associated Press asked Georgia House and Senate offices last week to complete a written survey on how lawmakers and their constituents are using the Internet and e-mail.

Among the more interesting findings, based on replies from 12 of the 13 offices:

More than 20,000 e-mails arrived at Georgia congressional offices last month. That was down from a year ago, when President Clinton's impeachment prompted an unusually heavy flood of e-mail, but was several times the volume of two years ago.

"E-mail is growing exponentially," said Bill Evans, a spokesman for Rep. John Linder of Atlanta. Mr. Linder receives 4,000 to 5,000 e-mails a month, with 60 percent of them from outside Georgia.

Six House offices reported a combined total of more than 32,500 visits to their official Internet web sites during the past month. Rep. Saxby Chambliss of Moultrie, whose mostly rural district stretches from Macon to Florida, tallied more than 15,000 hits.

In most offices, the volume of regular mail has not declined significantly as the amount of e-mail has increased.

"It would appear that people are using e-mail as an additional way to communicate rather than as a replacement for traditional mail," said Brad Alexander, Mr. Barr's press secretary.

More than half of the e-mail at most Georgia offices -- 95 percent in the case of Mr. Bishop's office -- comes from non-constituents. As a result, some members have opted not to have a direct e-mail address. Instead, they receive only e-mail generated from their official Web site, which sorts out non-constituent mail.

"If you don't screen them, you end up getting blasted from people all over the country on these special interest issues and you can't figure out what your own constituents want you to do," said John Stone, Mr. Norwood's press secretary.

As a matter of policy, most Georgia lawmakers don't even respond to out-of-state e-mail. Some won't answer e-mails from outside their districts.

The exceptions are Mr. Barr, who responds to non-constituents seeking information on key issues, and Mr. Coverdell, who answers out-of-state e-mail from schoolchildren working on projects and from people asking specifically about issues with which he's directly involved.

Georgia lawmakers are in various stages of developing electronic databases of constituents who communicate with them by e-mail. The goal of some offices is to use the databases to keep constituents interested in specific issues informed of legislative developments by e-mail.

"E-mail will be a key tool and play one of the most important roles in our future communications with constituents, because of its simplicity, speed, cost efficiency and wide application," said Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah.


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