To get on the ballot, each Democratic candidate for statewide office needs to get both 15% of the delegate vote at the state convention on June 2-3, and a certain number of certified signatures from voters:
- Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General: 10,000 signatures
- Secretary, Treasurer, Auditor: 5,000 signatures
Only signatures from registered voters who are eligible to vote for the candidate will be certified. For these candidates, that means any registered Democrat or “unenrolled” (no party) voter in Massachusetts.
Voters sign on nominating petition forms supplied by the state Elections Division, and there are several steps each sheet of signatures goes through:
- Campaign fills in candidate information and distributes petition sheets to volunteers
- Voters sign their name and address
- Volunteers turn sheets in to city and town clerks offices for certification
- Cities and towns determine which signatures come from qualified registered voters
- Volunteers pick sheets up from clerk’s office and return them to the campaign
- Campaign submits certified sheets to state Elections Division for final certification
It might vary a little. For example, some volunteers turn their sheets in to the campaign before getting signatures certified with their city or town clerk – but at this late stage, if you’re collecting signatures at home and far from the campaign office, turning your sheets in yourself might make the difference between meeting the deadline or not.
Speaking of deadlines, May 9th at 5pm is for turning the sheets in to clerks’ offices. They have a deadline themselves: they must finish certifying by May 30th. And all of the completed, certified sheets have to be in at the Elections Division by June 6th. The time between May 30th and June 6th is there to allow for challenges and appeals, which usually aren’t necessary.
Rules for Signatures and Petitions
You must use a nominating petition of exactly the size and design supplied by the Elections Division. Even a simple photocopying mistake, like flipping the front and back sides, might disqualify the sheet. Most campaigns will happily supply you with as many blank sheets as you ask for… or more 🙂
For the signatures you collect to be valid, follow these rules and guidelines:
- Each sheet has a space for a city or town name. Write the same city/town name in the space provided on both the front and the back. Only signatures from voters in that city/town count on this sheet; all others will be disqualified.
- No Stray Marks. Voters must sign within the space provided. Write the city/town name in the box. Make no other marks anywhere on the sheet. Don’t cross out mistakes.
- To correct any mistake, have the voter sign again on the next line. Two signatures from the same voter are okay: one will be certified, the other will not. If a voter isn’t sure of their registered address (for example, if they moved in the past year and don’t remember whether they re-registered), have them sign twice, once with each address. Do not cross out mistakes – the bad lines just won’t be certified.
- Each voter must sign legibly so that their clerk can recognize their name. Pay attention! If a voter’s signature is not legible, ask them to print their name, or just their last name, next to / above their signature in the same box. Make sure their address is legible, too. The law directs registrars to certify the signature if they can reasonably determine the identity of the signature. Often, they will look it up by address first, then try to match the voters’ signature to the one they have on file.
- There are columns for ward and precinct. It’s okay to leave those blank. If the voter is not sure of their ward and precinct, leave them blank.
- There’s a “check” column. It’s for the city and town clerks to mark which signatures were certified. Leave it blank!
- [update] Signing doesn’t mean supporting the candidate. In fact, voters are allowed to sign nomination papers for competing candidates. If you want to sign for Reilly, Patrick, and Gabrieli, that’s fine, and your signature will be certified for all of them. Signing just helps get the candidate on the ballot, that’s all.
Both the Massachusetts and United States Constitutions protect the right to solicit signatures on nomination papers […] in a reasonable and unobtrusive manner in open public areas. This includes the public areas of municipal property as well as the common areas of privately owned shopping areas. […] The right of signature solicitation […] on municipal sidewalks, in parks, and in other similar open public areas is clear.
How and Where to do it
It’s more fun with a friend, or with a group of volunteers. If you contact your candidate’s campaign, they may be able to tell you where people are gathering signatures. For example, PDC and DFA Cambridge members will be collecting signatures for John Bonifaz together at Harvard Square’s MayFair this weekend. If you’re picking your own location, here are a few characteristics that make for a good spot:
- Steady pedestrian traffic: A city park may look good because there are a lot of people there, but if it’s the same 40 people there for a whole afternoon, you’re not going to get more than 40 signatures. Look for places people move through, not places where most people are lingering.
- Local: If you collect at downtown crossing in Boston, chances are every other voter who wants to sign will need a new sheet, because they come from all over the state. While you’re writing down Chelmsford or Wakefield or Plymouth on the front and back of a new sheet, you’ll miss other voters as they walk by. Eventually, you’ll have so many sheets you’ll have a hard time finding the right ones for people to sign on. And then you’ll need to get them to the campaign in time to mail them all out to all of those cities and towns. Very impractical! Instead, find somewhere that draws mostly people from the same one or two cities or towns. Don’t bother getting signatures from the few people you find who live somewhere else – you can better use that time approaching other voters, and filling up the sheets for the towns you’re focusing on.
- Bored or Interested: At many locations, people will just walk by, or try to avoid you. Find a place where people are likely to be interested – for example, a political gathering; or a place where people are relaxed or waiting around and not in a hurry, such as an outdoor arts festival.
A lot of people prefer supermarket parking lots. Those aren’t bad. You get a steady stream of people coming and going, and if you pick the right supermarket, they’ll mostly be local. If you catch them on the way in, chances are they won’t mind giving you a moment of their time.
Personally, I prefer bus stops. I think they’re the ideal petitioning location. Pick a bus stop that has fairly frequent buses at the time you’re there, and you’ll get a steady stream of people
. But half those people, the ones coming to get on a bus, will arrive 5-10 minutes before their bus, so they’ll just be standing around killing time. They’re not in a hurry and they don’t have anything better to do than to read whatever you hand them. If you have a bunch of flyers about your candidate, hand them out to everyone, then go back collecting signatures. And, of course, based on the bus stop you pick, you can pretty well determine which cities most of the passengers reside in. Don’t assume this is just for urban areas; I’ve had some very good luck collecting signatures at the central bus stop in North Adams, for example.
If you’re collecting in a heavily Democratic area – which is just about every urban area in the state, most of Boston’s suburbs, and most of the Pioneer Valley and Berkshires – it may not be worth your time to ask people what their party registration is. Chances are, if you don’t ask, the large majority of signers will be Democrats or unenrolled anyway. If you do ask, you may end up taking more time per voter, especially if they wonder why you want to know. If that means you miss other people walking by, it may be a net loss to you.
[update] As purplemouse reminds us, carry some voter registration forms with you. I always have some, so I don’t think of it as something special to do when collecting signatures. Some things to keep in mind:
- To be sure someone’s signature will count, their registration form must reach their city/town clerk before your petition sheet with their signature.
- If you just give someone a form, chances are they will forget to fill it out or send it in, or not do it in time to count. It’s more effective to put the form on a clipboard, have them fill it out, and tell them you’ll hand carry it to city hall for them. If you do that, make sure they fill it out correctly, and don’t add corrections of your own.
- However, if you’re working alone, the time you spend taking someone’s voter registration is time you may miss several other signers during. So just give them the form and assume their signature won’t be certified. On the other hand, if you’re getting signatures from friends, definitely take the time to register them! 🙂
Getting Them Certified
Bring your petitions to your city or town clerk’s office or elections department before the deadline. If you can’t do that on Tuesday before 5pm, find out now what their Monday hours are! Also, even though they’re almost always at city hall, in some places (such as Cambridge) the elections department is located in another building. Look them up on the web or call ahead to make sure you’re going to the right place.
This is probably obvious, but only give each city signatures from that city! Don’t expect a city to certify sheets for another city.
When you turn your sheets in, you’ll be given a receipt that states how many sheets, and how many “raw” signatures you turned in. Keep this receipt. When you come back later this month to collect them, bring your receipt with you, and collect the sheets.
Although they have until May 30th, in my experience most of them certify signatures much more quickly. Your sheets may be ready in a day or two. They may call you when they’re ready, but if May 30th is getting near and they haven’t called, call them and ask.
And, of course, return the certified sheets to your campaign promptly! Or, check with them, and take the signatures to the state Elections Division in downtown Boston yourself.
(Disclosure: I’m the campaign blogger for John Bonifaz. But I hope that you’ll collect for any one – or more – of the statewide candidates this weekend. If you do collect for Bonifaz, please comment on John’s blog and tell us about it!)