Chris asked about last evening’s signature-gathering efforts. I was (and still am) getting signatures for Tracy Novick, Kate Toomey, and Gabe Rollins. (In fact, I’ll be in the downtown this evening, and at the library for the Great Books Discussion Group. If you’re interested in signing, let me know!)
I’d never gathered signatures before, but I figured I should put my money where my mouth is when it comes to getting candidates on the ballot.
(I also have this belief that every once in a while I should do something completely out of my comfort zone, especially if it causes me discomfort or humbles me. Which explains, among other things, my appearance on Coffee with Konnie, this blog, and why I have never had a labor that lasted less than 48 hours.)
My husband, who has a touch more experience in gathering signatures, suggested that I hang out at a supermarket rather than the library.
However, I’ve been approached by all manner of signature-seekers at the library, and I never go into supermarkets, whereas I go to the library all the time. The proximity to thousands of volumes of books would help calm my nerves.
Also, I reasoned, shouldn’t patrons of the library be more likely to be registered voters than your average supermarket patron?
My husband laughed. “You’ll see.”
[My husband’s latest comment about Worcester is the following: “The people of Worcester are like mushrooms. The city keeps them in the dark and feeds them bullshit.” I tend to be slightly more optimistic.]
Anyway, here are my impressions of trying to get nomination papers at the library on a Tuesday night in July:
- There are a lot of registered voters, but unfortunately most of them live in towns like Leicester. I had a lovely chat with a woman about the plans for expanding the Leicester Public Library and the need for more evening hours there. It seems like the rule of thumb at the WPL is that if someone looks like a registered voter who is not wholly opposed to signing one’s papers, nine times out of ten they live in a ‘burb.
- One woman almost attacked me because she thought I was approaching her with a petition for chickens. By the end of the evening, I felt like maybe a big lapel button that proclaimed that I’m crazy about street signs, not chickens, would have been helpful.
- There were a couple of people who were more enthusiastic about signing for non-incumbents than for incumbents. There were also a couple of people who were enthusiastic about the particular incumbents whose papers I had.
- At least one person asked how much I was making doing this. Ha ha ha!
There were two really interesting moments in my evening, and both were nearly identical.
I approached a young man (under 25, probably under 22) and asked if he was a registered voter.
Would he be interested in signing nomination papers for candidates for city office?
His response was that “I need to become better educated and I don’t want to sign anything…”
And he walked away.
About an hour later, I approached a young man, explained the nomination paper process in a bit of detail, and got the same response, nearly word-for-word.
Now, there could be a couple of possibilities about what they meant by “I need to become a better educated voter.”
One is that it’s just a slightly nicer way of saying “I don’t vote because I can’t be bothered.”
The second is that the young guys really do want to be educated about their voting options but don’t exactly know how to go about that.
If I were a trained political operative, I would have likely had a better response for them, but I’m not the kind of person who tends towards chasing someone down the sidewalk in an evangelising manner.
I’ve thought about this a bit, and if I had it to do over again, I’d say something like this to those guys:
Think about what matters to you. And then ask where a candidate stands on those issues.
What you should say — rather than a pat “I need to become better educated” — is:
- I really care about urban chickens. Can you tell me where this candidate stands on that?
- I didn’t like the way the pit bull vote went down. If this candidate was an incumbent, how did s/he vote on that?
- I live in X neighborhood. What is this candidate going to do for my neighborhood?
- I don’t like high-stakes standardized testing. Where does this school committee candidate stand on that issue?
That is how you get to be a better-educated voter. Walking away from someone doesn’t get you there. Not getting folks on the ballot so that informed debates can take place definitely won’t get you there.
In other words, don’t be a mushroom.
I came across some folks I knew: Julie and Jim, who are blog readers, and the wonderful Brian Nelson. They and some others — all over the age of 40 — shared my view, which is that everyone (or pretty much everyone) should have access to be on a ballot.
Another gentleman (who will remain anonymous) spoke with me for a bit about his shock that his friends who are younger than him (that is, in their 20s and 30s) don’t vote. He talked about going to vote with his mother, and how voting became like reading for him: behavior that was modeled so that it became the norm.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: signing someone’s nominating papers does not mean you want to vote for the person. Signing papers to get a question on the ballot doesn’t mean you agree with the question.
It means you want that person, or that issue, brought before the whole electorate for a vote.
That is, I suppose, the other thing I’d tell those young men. The debate, the platforms, all those methods to get yourself educated, don’t happen before someone becomes a candidate. And the only way to become a candidate is to get on the ballot is to sign those papers.