Petition Season for Congressional Candidates: Why You Should Answer the Door

Call of the Clipboard Carriers: Democracy Delivered

By Kevin J. Ryan

As we hope for relief from the Polar Vortex, another phenomenon is about to sweep New York State: petition gathering for Congressional candidates. The process of gathering signatures from registered voters to get Congressional candidates on the ballot begins this week, because of the June primaries for Congress.

Republicans  Stephen Labate and Grant Lally hope to run in a June 24th primary in New York’s Third Congressional District, which cuts into Northeast Queens. The winner will run against Democratic incumbent Steve Israel in the general election.

If you’re a registered voter in any party, the peace and quiet of your evening at home may be breached by a knock on your door from someone carrying a clipboard with a long sheet of paper asking for your signature. Before you slam the door and get back to Dancing with the Real Housewives of CSI: Duck Dynasty, consider the plight of petition gatherers and the service they provide.

Petition season is normally in the summer, in June and July. It’s the few short, hot weeks when candidates have to gather a minimum number of signatures from voters registered in their party line, in order to get on the ballot. Archaic as it seems in the Digital Age, collecting signatures on paper and submitting them to the Board of Elections on time is the only way a candidate can get on the ballot. The signature is not an endorsement or a vote, nor does it obligate you in any way. Your signature simply indicates that you are a registered voter who lives at that address and would like the candidate to appear on the ballot on your party’s line.

New Yorkers are among the busiest, most sophisticated voters in the world. We don’t have much free time and are understandably suspicious of anyone ringing our doorbell and interrupting our dinner. It’s been a long, stressful day at work and we just want to feed our families and watch a little TV. The last thing a normal person thinks about at 7pm on a cold March night or a muggy night in June (for city and state races) is an election in November. We are, quite correctly, especially hesitant to sign a paper for a total stranger.

Lots of us complain about not having a voice in government. We say the process is closed to us. There’s no way for the average person to have a say in who runs for office.

But is that true? Do we really want a voice in the political process, or do we only want it at that mythical convenient moment?

The petition carrier soldiers through a curtain of disagreeable weather and disheartening apathy to bring an opportunity to participate in the electoral process right to your door. You don’t even have to go to a poll site. In a few seconds, you can choose whether to help a candidate in your party get on the ballot.

Who are these Clipboard Carriers? Some are paid, while most are volunteers. Some collectors, especially Democrats, might simply set up a table in a shopping center and sign up the plentiful Democratic voters. But the process is more grueling for Republicans, whose lower numbers in New York necessitate going door-to-door. Registered Conservatives are fewer still.

Clipboard Carriers will be out this month, navigating around mountains of snow, dirty slush, ice, moats and mud to collect for Congressional candidates. They’ll be out again this summer for the other 2014 races, getting Cool Hand Luke sweaty and remembering fondly the Polar Vortex. They spend their nights searching for addresses, smiling and giving the same well-mannered explanation for their intrusion over and over, being barked at by strange dogs (and sometimes their owners), taking abuse from regular folks who don’t understand what petitioning is and, understandably, just want to close the door and seal in the blessed air conditioning or heat.

If not for their passion and sacrifice and the bright spots that come from talking to a lot of nice people each night, carriers would easily go home as demoralized as they are dehydrated. A kind word or a brief, pleasant conversation with a voter is like an oasis for a petition carrier.

All Republicans need to be aware of this old-fashioned process, open their doors, sign for the candidate they want on the ballot and be polite to the Clipboard Carriers. They deliver democracy, right to your door. So when a petition carrier rings your bell, pause House of Cards for one minute and take some real political action. Better yet, be truly active and volunteer to carry petitions for your favorite candidates this month and over the summer.

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