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a simple server that connects calls between citizens and their congress person using the Twilio API
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Call Congress

A simple flask server that connects calls between citizens and their congress person using the Twilio API.

The server handles two cases:

  • A phone call made to the campaign number
  • A web-initiated call to connect a user's phone number to congress
    • can specify congress person(s) in the api call
    • can have the user punch in their zip code and look up their congressional members

Incoming phone calls

Each new campaign's Twilio phone number needs to be configured to point to:


The user will be prompted to punch in their zip code, the server will locate their members of congress using the Sunlight Labs locate data, and dial them.

Web-initiated connection calls

These calls are made from a web form where the user enters their phone number to be connected to Congress (will be prompted for zip code):


or a specific member of congress:


or to member(s) based on zip code:


Required Params:

  • userPhone
  • campaignId

Optional Params: (either or)

  • zipcode
  • repIds: identifiers (can be more than one) from the Sunlight API's bioguide_id field

Campaign Configuration

Currently stored in /data/campaigns.yaml, each campaign has the following optional fields. Defaults are given by the default campaign.

  • id
  • number (Twilio phone number)
  • target_house include house members in lookups by location
  • target_senate include senators in lookups by location
  • target_house_first allows the campaign to target house members before senate members (default: target senate first)
  • repIds (optional) list of rep. IDs to target
  • randomize_order (optional, default false) randomize the order of the phone calls
  • overrides_google_spreadsheet_id (optional) ID of publicly published Google Spreadsheet which can override the default campaign behaviors on a per-state basis (see section below)
  • skip_star_confirm (optional, default false) Whether to skip the "press star to confirm" step for campaigns which don't gather zipcode
  • call_human_check (optional, default false) Whether to check the recipient is not an answering machine. Note, will add a 3 second delay before your call begins.

Messages: Can be urls for recorded message to play or text for the robot to read. Text can be rendered as a mustache template. The following messages are the defaults and will be inherited by new campaigns unless overwritten.

  • msg_intro: Hi. Welcome to call congress.
  • msg_ask_zip: Please enter your zip code so we can lookup your Congress person.
  • msg_invalid_zip: "Sorry, that zip code didn't work. Please try again."
  • msg_call_block_intro: "We'll now connect you to {{n_reps}} representatives. Press # for next rep."
  • msg_rep_intro: "We're now connecting you to {{name}}"
  • msg_special_call_intro: Optional: if an extra first call number is specified in the remote Google Spreadsheet, this text can be used to introduce the extra call. It's optional, and if not specified, we'll fall back to msg_rep_intro.
  • msg_between_thanks: You're doing great - here's the next call.
  • msg_final_thanks: Thank you!

Overriding the default behaviors with a Google Spreadsheet

Using the optional overrides_google_spreadsheet_id, each campaign can specify a remote Google Spreadsheet to pull in for state-specific overrides. This allows you to change the campaign's default behaviors on a per-state basis. Currently the following features are supported:

  • Change the order priority of the calls (House vs. Senate)
  • Always call a particular legislator first (specified by last name)
  • Call an arbitrary name/number before connecting to Congress. For example, you could use this to call a specific public-works department for a given state.

To get an idea of how this works, see this example spreadsheet.

Specifically, the Google Spreadsheet must be public, and published (note the distinction) and the first row must contain column labels in bold-faced and with exactly the precise text as specified here:

  1. State
  2. Target Senate
  3. Target House
  4. Target House First
  5. Optional Target Individual first (lastname)
  6. Optional Extra First Call Name
  7. Optional Extra First Call Number

Account Keys

The app uses environment variables to store account keys. For development you will need to set:

  • REDISTOGO_URL (optional Redis URL for caching the Google Spreadsheet data)

and for production:

  • APPLICATION_ROOT (url for application server)
  • TASKFORCE_KEY (used for querying statistics)

Development mode

To install locally and run in debug mode use:

# create ENV variables
virtualenv venv
source venv/bin/activate
pip install -r requirements.txt

# for testing twilio, need internet-visible urls to do call handling
ngrok -subdomain="1cf55a5a" 5000

When the dev server is running, the demo front-end will be accessible at http://localhost:5000/demo.

Unit tests can also be run, using:


Production server

To run in production:

# create ENV variables
# open correct port
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 80 -j ACCEPT
# initialize the database
# run server - will charge real $ and connect real calls
foreman start

Updating for changes in congress

Just download the latest data from Sunlight Congress API using:

cd data && make -B
git commit data/districts.csv data/legislators.csv
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