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Faint political voices rise from e-mail

If you want to get through to your mayor, you're better off meeting in person. Still, a study finds that e-mail is slowly transforming the notoriously tech-adverse political world.

    If you want to get through to your mayor, you're still better off meeting in person than relying on e-mails.

    A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that although 88 percent of local elected officials use the Internet daily while working, just 14 percent consider constituent e-mails significant. Lawmakers tend to give much more credence to meetings, phone calls and letters than to electronic communications.

    Still, the study found that e-mails and the Web are slowly transforming the notoriously tech-adverse political world. About 32 percent of local elected officials said e-mail lobbying campaigns played a role in swaying their decisions on policies, and 73 percent said e-mail exchanges with constituents helped them understand public opinion. In addition, more than half said e-mail provided contact with citizens they had not heard from in the past.

    "Government officials have a reputation of being slow to adopt Internet tools, but this survey shows how most local officials have caught up and are using new technologies to do their jobs," Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, said in a statement.

    The study also uncovered a finding that illustrates one of the advantages of being slow to adopt the Web: Government officials don't seem to be buried by spam yet. A full 86 percent of officials who are online said they can handle all of their e-mail messages.