July 17, 2008

Is Getting on the Ballot Half the Battle?

Justin Katz

With reports of Rhode Island Republicans' difficulties getting on ballots continuing to roll in, it's difficult not to decry something as criminal (if only metaphorically):

The Warren Board of Canvassers is investigating whether signatures were improperly collected on nomination papers returned by Dana Peloso, a Republican challenging incumbent Democrat Jan Malik for the District 67 House seat.

The three-member board is set to schedule an emergency meeting to discuss "discrepancies" in the list of signatures, according to its chairman Vinny Calenda. ...

As of yesterday afternoon, neither Calenda nor anyone in the town clerk's office had contacted Peloso regarding the potential problems. When notified by a reporter, Peloso said, "This is news to me." ...

But [Peloso] said he had contacted all of the people whose signatures had been disqualified and that they had confirmed signing his papers.

Typically, a person's signature can be disqualified if it is illegible or if the person who signed is not a registered voter in the relevant town or district.

I'm curious which reason accounts for the most disqualifications, and if the former, I'd like to see some samples of illegibility.

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The only thing which is criminal is the wringer that they're putting a first time candidate through. It's doesn't exactly encourage regular people to challenge entrenched incumbents, does it?

Most of the time, signatures are tossed because people who honestly believe they are registered voters, aren't. Generally, people like to be nice, so they'll just sign whatever you put in front of them. Sometimes people have really bad penmanship, but in my experience, it's much more often the former (which is why its a good idea to cross-check your signatures with the voting list before turning them in).

Dana's main problem was that he didn't have an overabundance of signatures to begin with, so he didn't have a lot of "cushion" in case some signatures turned out to be invalid, which absolutely always happens for any number of reasons. Warren decided to look into his signatures -- after certifying them -- mainly because Barrington did. I have a feeling that Dana will still make it by a squeaker, though I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

PS Keep your eye on the RIGOP federal races. I suspect several of the totals will be very close, though I expect all 3 candidates to make the ballot.

Posted by: Will at July 17, 2008 6:27 PM

The 19 year old kid who was runing against Joe Trillo was disqualified
for the same reason
He is a Democrat

go figure

Posted by: doug at July 17, 2008 7:53 PM

As someone who has run the campaign of several challengers to Democratic incumbents, the conventional wisdom is that you HAVE to submit over 200 signatures because you have to expect that the incumbent will try to knock out some of your signatures. Candidates who failed to do this just failed the first test in demonstrating that they have the where withall (sp?) to be a good elected official.

Posted by: Matt Jerzyk at July 17, 2008 10:38 PM

So political maneuvering requires that a candidate collect 400% of the signatures actually needed to get on the ballot, and a failure to achieve that proves that citizens shouldn't even have the chance to vote for that candidate?

Sounds like this might be yet another indication of what's wrong with this state.

Posted by: Justin Katz at July 17, 2008 10:45 PM


That was pretty much the rule in smalltown upstate New York races twenty years ago so I don't know how you can get off like this is some new and uniquely Rhode Island maneuver. It takes a moron to know that you need to collect 50 signatures and you collect 50 signatures. Especially in THIS state. You'd have to be a retard of the RIGOP-calibre to not plan for the challenges, idiots who sign your petition that shouldn't, and other teeny-tiny insignificant reasons why a signature gets tossed.

I really think we should recruit some Student Council kids from local high schools to run the Republican Party in this state...

Posted by: Greg at July 17, 2008 10:51 PM

I actually kind of agree with Matt here. A good rule of thumb is, if you need 50, get 100; need 100, get 200. Of course, if you have the wherewithal to get more than that, either by yourself or with the help of others, then by all means, do it. If anything else, it's a good (and practically free) way to meet your potential future constituents. Plus, all that walking is good exercise.

Even with the best of intentions, you don't turn in 60 or 70 signatures, when the threshold is 50. It's definitely an amateur's mistake, but it can serve as a good political lesson for those contemplating a run for office.

Posted by: Will at July 18, 2008 1:01 AM

Fine, if that's the way it is, then that's the way it is. When I initially said that something might be criminal, I was including the possibility that the Republican Party is "criminally" incompetent at ushering candidates onto the ballot.

I'm still not sure how such a mistake has any bearing on one's suitability for office, and the sequence of events seems a bit odd. And whether or not this is a Rhode Island thing (curious that, after chastising me, Greg, you go on to emphasize "especially in THIS state"), it doesn't seem to serve the people to prevent them from having the opportunity to vote for an alternative.

Posted by: Justin Katz at July 18, 2008 6:20 AM

As far as "illegible" goes, a person's signature is their signature, no matter how messy. If it is similar to their voter card signature, then there is no problem and one can defend against a challenge.

Regarding being a registered voter, well, that's a problem easily avoided in races that need 100 signatures or less - the potential candidate should walk with a voter list.

I ran for local office twice, with the requirement being 50 signatures. I armed myself with an updated voter list and made sure people signed exactly as shown in the list, i.e., with middle initials or names.

I would walk my neighborhood late in the day, and in less than six hours over two days I had 100 signatures for myself and about 50 for whomever was running for Mayor and Council Citywide, as I would take their nominating papers along with me.

I would turn in my papers two days after being issued, and the certification by the Board of Canvassers would begin. Two days after that, I would check on the status. I can't recall more than a handful being rejected, but I didn't really care. By starting early and paying attention to detail, I would have at least three days to gather more signatures if needed.

Running a good campaign is hard work, but it's worth it, even if you don't win in November.

Posted by: oz at July 18, 2008 7:42 AM

When I was a kid, my father ran for School Committee, and probably got enough signatures at his K of C. But running against a savvy incumbent, he went out and got some more (didn't pay off in a win, but he had no trouble making the ballot).
Besides, as Tip O'Neill said, people like to be asked.

Posted by: rhody at July 18, 2008 2:59 PM

"And whether or not this is a Rhode Island thing (curious that, after chastising me, Greg, you go on to emphasize "especially in THIS state")"

Justin, I loves ya but sometimes I think you let your hair do all the thinking...

In every sector of the world people play the game of politics like chess with knives (except the RIGOP, of course. They're playing Gnip Gnop.) so these things happen EVERYWHERE. New York, Chicago, Afghanistan, Russia, etc... Now, knowing that RI is so F'ed up that we elected Herman Friggin Mobster to run the elections process, don't you think that we would need even an EXTRA layer of diligence against dirty tricks?

Posted by: Greg at July 18, 2008 5:19 PM

I don't have any sympathy for candidates who don't collect the necessary signatures. A candidate can collect all the necessary signatures by himself standing in front of a Stop & Shop for a couple of days. In some states, candidates have to collect so many signature that they need to hire paid signature collectors.

If a candidate won't spend the time to collect enough valid signatures, what makes you think he or she will spend the far longer hours necessary to be a good legislator?

Posted by: Anthony at July 18, 2008 7:26 PM
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