Getting your candidate on the ballot is no easy task. Here are tips for successful petition signature gathering in Missoula, Montana.
Before presidential candidates can get your vote, they have to get on the ballot in your state. Collecting signatures so a candidate can qualify to be on a ballot is one of the most important steps in any campaign.
For the presidential primary ballot in Montana, candidates need to submit a declaration and oath. They must also submit verified signatures of at least 500 registered voters. Most campaigns aim to collect thousands more signatures than necessary for bragging rights. Also, lots of signatures are invalidated for a number of reasons (the County Clerk office can’t read the handwriting, the address isn’t sufficient, the person who signed isn’t actually registered to vote).
I volunteered to gather signatures for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. The campaign set the goal of collecting 1,000 signatures in Montana. Here’s my tips and tricks for successful signature gathering efforts.
1: Find your local campaign staffer to help you get plugged in.
This is pretty easy. It’s no secret that if you indicate any kind of interest in helping a political campaign, that they’ll follow you around like a lost puppy.
For Warren’s campaign, I went to her website, made a $2 donation, and received an endless series of texts with all the different ways I could get involved. I responded “Yes” to one asking me to collect signatures for a 3 hour shift on a Sunday morning.
2: Rope in a friend.
Learn from the campaign that just recruited you. Shout from the mountain top that you’re going to be volunteering and ask everyone you know if they want to join you. Ask your friends one at a time, directly. A general “Anyone want to join me?” is going to be met with crickets. Once you ask your friend directly, look at them with expectant excitement until you get a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
3: Show up!
We all sign up for things with the best of intentions. Then Sunday morning rolls around and your partner is cuddled up on the couch watching episode after episode of “Love is Blind” and you have a sense of dread about the 35-degree weather and predicted snowfall. Get over it! This is why you roped in a friend and why you planned a reward (see tip #6).
Get yourself to the quick volunteer orientation. Listen to the directions, drink some coffee, and get your clipboard.
4: Find a good place to stand.
They’ll likely have a few designated places to send you. You can stand anywhere on a public sidewalk. Note that a parking lot outside of a business (like a grocery store parking lot) is private property. You have to get permission from the manager to collect signatures in that case.
Scope out your location and find a place where you can be in people’s walking paths without blocking their access to a business. My friend and I chose a popular market that is known in town for it’s delicious breakfast burritos (see tip #6).
As we expected, there was a steady stream of people coming in and out of the market. We positioned ourselves outside, about 20 feet from the door on either side, and didn’t give people much of a chance to escape us.
5: Be ready for whatever comes your way.
I’ve gathered signatures for ballot initiatives before. I’ve registered people to vote. I’ve made get out the vote phone calls. If you’re an introvert, like me, this might not be for you. But if you’re an introvert who wants to save democracy, you figure out how to prepare yourself and take care of yourself (see tip #6).
During my signature gathering shift I use these strategies:
- Smile and make eye contact (or try), hold your head up, and appear approachable. If there’s lots of space on the sidewalk, take one or two steps toward the approaching person (not too close!).
- Ask directly “Are you registered to vote in Montana?”
- Follow up with “Will you sign this petition to help get Elizabeth Warren on the primary ballot in MT?”
Be prepared for:
- “Yes?” Seriously, so many people are happy to participate in the process and are just waiting to feel welcomed into the political process. You are there to make their dreams come true! Show your genuine excitement about their participation. One person I asked said that she’d never voted before, but she was going to this year because it felt too important. While voting might feel like a no-brainer to you (especially if you’re volunteering for a campaign at this level), remember that almost 50% of people don’e vote. Don’t shame people for not having been involved before- celebrate that they’re going to be involved this time.
- “No. Not today.” Smile, because you’re an ambassador for your candidate. But really, if not today, when, Karen? Let them go get their burrito and ask the next person.
- “I haven’t done my research. So I don’t feel comfortable signing.” Sometimes I can’t help but roll my eyes at this. But then I check myself and realize I live in a news saturated bubble and perhaps people do want to feel more informed- can I blame them?
- “I’m voting for someone else.” That’s fine! I usually say- “GREAT! Don’t you want that person to win in a fair fight? Getting someone else on the ballot doesn’t obligate you to vote for them and it makes the democratic process as robust as it’s supposed to be.”
- “PSHSHSHST.” It’s easy for people to be rude to us when we’re holding a clipboard and standing between them and their breakfast burrito. Don’t go after these people to convince them, but don’t let them get you down either! You can often hear me saying in a very calm and normal voice “I’m a HUMAN BEING,” when I get a response like this. If people are downright rude, it’s ok to remind them they can be better than that.
6: Reward yourself!
You did hard work! You saved democracy! You deserve a reward. Make sure your petitions are in a safe, dry place. And enjoy your breakfast burrito (or other treat).