Monday, February 23, 2009

The Petition Process

I am providing this information for those of you who have the ambition to run for public office some day. It may be useful to you.

This has been an interesting process. In order to get on the ballot to be a candidate for either Mayor or Commissioner here in Dayton, you need to circulate a nominating petition and acquire 500 signatures from registered voters residing in the city. I picked up my petition forms back in April 2008. Almost a full year before the process would begin. I was informed that the layout of the forms could change if the city commission decided to do so but this would require a change in the city charter. Four changes to the city charter were announced and on the November 2008 ballot. None affected the petition forms. I started getting signatures in October 2008. I knew exactly what it was going to take to get 500 valid signatures. I wanted to get my petitions turned in early but as time went on, I realized that there is no good reason to do so. I will explain this later.

I started the obvious way. I went to public events and asked people to sign. Public events included the South Park Jazz festival and numerous neighborhood association meetings. Getting people to sign is no problem. Finding registered voters who reside in the city is. At neighborhood meetings I could sit for two hours and get anywhere from two to twenty two signatures. By December I realized that it was time to go knocking on doors. I had voter registration lists for my neighborhood that show me when people last voted. It also shows party affiliation. Since I am an undeclared, independent candidate these affiliations have no effect for me.

I am a strategic thinker. My goal is to get 500 signatures with the least amount of rejection and make the most effective use of my very limited time. For the bulk of my signatures I walked the streets of my neighborhood where I am the president of the neighborhood association. I help produce a monthly newsletter which is distributed to just about every resident in the neighborhood. I have done this for six years. Since I have been the president of the neighborhood association for five of those years, my name appears as such in the newsletter. By walking my own neighborhood, I was able to greet residents with the following;

"Hello. I'm Gary Leitzell, the president of the neighborhood association. I'm collecting signatures from registered voters because I am running for mayor this year and the process involves coming out on warm days in January to get signatures from 500 registered voters so that I can be on the ballot in May." In 26 degree weather this generally got a chuckle.

Even when it is getting dark outside and people stand guarded in their doorway wondering who I am, as soon as I mention that I am the president of the neighborhood association their shields drop. I am also able to find out if newsletters are being delivered or if there are any problems in a particular block. I have had very few people refuse to sign my petition. Those that have refused were people who don't sign any petitions or were staunch Republican voters who were waiting for their candidate to come knocking on their door to get their blessing which still hasn't happened. Out of the 700 or so people I have met maybe 15 have refused to sign. Five were of the Republican variety. Only three of the people I have met told me that they were going to vote for Rhine McLin. Two of these same people signed my petition. You will be surprised at all the stories you will learn about the other candidates!

When you go door to door with the voters lists, the quality of the signature is almost guaranteed. This said, I have to assume that at least 10% of my signatures will not be validated by the board of elections. Since all signatures have to be turned in in a single package (according to the city charter) and no petition sheets can be returned to a candidate (contradicting what it states on the petition form) there is no incentive to turn them in early and every reason why you should persist at getting as many signatures as possible until the deadline date. As of this date I have well over 600 signatures and should be able to get another 100 or more quality signatures by the deadline date.

You have to plan this process out. With a five year old daughter I have limited time to dedicate to collecting signatures. It is more limited in cold or inclement weather. The best time to be out is between 5:00 and 7:00 PM or on Sundays. You will average around 10 signatures an hour. You will be surprised at how many people aren't home and more surprised at how many empty houses there are at the moment. On warm days my daughter comes with me but she will tire out long before I ever do so I am sure to be close to home when I take her with me. If I had to do this over again, I would have pounded the streets in October and November when the weather was warm and hit the neighborhood associations when it was colder. I did ask some people to help me but unless they have a vested interest in the outcome you must not expect miracles. You have to realize that they may have a tougher time than you will because if people don't know who you are, they aren't going to know who your friends are. I'm looking forward to getting done with this phase of the process so I can get back to working on the house!

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