Grassroots Basics: Petitions, and what to do, now that petition season is beginning
This is part of an occasional series, Grassroots basics for emergent parties.
DC candidates for the Democratic primary in April have already turned in their petitions; but for most candidates petition season is just beginning. As someone who has collected signatures for many candidates, I thought that I would share what I have learned about collecting signatures.
Before you collect signatures you must familiarize yourself with the law in your jurisdiction. Petitions are a never ending struggle for emergent parties as the bar is so frequently set higher for emergent parties. In an ideal world the local committee will appoint a petition coordinator, ideally this person would be a former candidate or at least someone who has experience in collecting signatures. There should be a training session where everyone is briefed on the laws in that jurisdiction.
So once you are familiar with the legal requirements, what is the best way to collect signatures? Go where the voters are, not where the people are. Grocery stores are a traditional place to gather signatures. The problem with grocery stores is that many people won't be registered voters, may not even be citizens, furthermore they will be in a hurry and not in a receptive frame of mind. The library is a much better place to gather signatures. People will not be in a hurry and are more likely to know whether or not they are registered to vote. The library caters to a more literate crowd. My favorite place to gather signatures is the library on a weekend, Saturdays between 11 AM and 3 PM and Sundays between 1:30 and 3 PM. Traffic is highest then and people are relaxed. I have never stood outside the Division of Motor Vehicles to gather signatures, but I know many people who swear by it. Other good places to gather signatures is before city council or county board meetings. People who go to those meetings are very likely to be not only registered to vote, but are the sort of people who actually do vote. The Independent Party of Connecticut stands in front of City Hall right before tax deadlines. This is a great way to catch voters just at a time when they are most likely to be dissatisfied with the existing power structure.
The worst way to collect signatures is the way I do it. I always got a street sort of all the identified Democrats in my precinct (people with a history of voting in Democratic primaries and never in Republican primaries), calling them, and going to get their signature. This is like pulling teeth, you have to catch them when they are at home. It takes weeks just to fill one petition. On the other hand this is a great way to take the temperature of your neighborhood. You get a feel for how local supporters feel about this year's candidate and whether they would be receptive to donating or working for that candidate. It is also a good way to mobilize support early in the election cycle, which is why I did it.