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Petition Season Survival Guide

Nominating_Petition-300x225Petition season is here, which means politicos from across the state are braving the cold and knocking on doors, hitting the pancake breakfast circuit, and sometimes bringing clipboards to social events.  

It kicked off on Feb. 14 and goes through 5pm, March 7.

The process is deceptively difficult and a technicality can mean the difference between being on the ballot, or watching from the sidelines. It’s a demonstration of operational strength – or weakness.

You can get petitions here, and the full state guidelines can be found here. Read them closely, because opponents scrutinize every page to make sure I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. And while state courts have trended in a more lenient direction lately (eg. accepting common nicknames in lieu of full names), no candidate wants their campaign to come down to a judge’s whim.

PoliticsPA decided to reach out to politicos across the state to get best practices, and hear the horror stories and the fun anecdotes about this three week span.  

From all across the spectrum, the tips came rolling in.

The most common piece of advice: Don’t forge signatures.  

Here are some of the other top tips from veterans of the process:

  • ALWAYS get more signatures than you need. The standard rule of thumb is to determine the right number – and double it. That goes for per-country requirements as well as the statewide total.
  • Carry petitions with you at all times during that three-week block. You never know who you may run into over the course of your day.
  • Know the actual municipalities of the county(s) or district(s) you are collecting in. Messing up that second-to-last column on the petition sheet is the easiest and most preventable way candidates and campaigns get otherwise good signatures ruled invalid.
  • If you are mailing petitions in for filing, make sure they are delivered on time. AIm early.

PoliticsPA asked for the fun and not so fun stories from petition circulation, some gave permission to use their names, others were submitted anonymously:

If you have a petition tip or anecdote we missed, email to submit them anonymously or on the record.  

Collin Sewell, Senior Associate Princeton Strategies

“I once had to get an insurance estimate after my car was hit, and the woman who performed the estimate just happened to live in the district we were collecting signatures in! I left the insurance office with more signatures than I walked in with thanks to the clipboard in my backseat”.

Marty Marks, Pittsburgh

We have encountered all kinds of situations regardless to the extent of training and direction offered including:

  • A candidate who misspelled his own name on his petition
  • Petitions that were supposed to be printed front and back on one page coming back to us as 2 pages stapled together – a notary’s nightmare
  • Petitions returned via fax
  • Full pages of obvious forgeries returned by volunteers (which we did not file)
  • Petitions that were challenged (unsuccessfully) because the union printer we used added the union logo at the bottom of the page
  • Petitions that were sent via Fed Ex with hundreds of signatures to an address in Cleveland and never made there way back to PA.

Anonymously submitted

“A State House candidate and his campaign aide were out collecting signatures and had a great conversation with a couple.  The couple told the candidate that they were hosting a bible study that night and the people involved would sign the petitions.  They obviously came back to the group, spoke with them all and got their signatures.  Before the candidate and staffer had a chance to leave, the bible study started, which as it turned out was a video series.  After about 20 minutes, the candidate and staffer could not find a socially acceptable time to leave.  The staffer decided to jump out of his seat, wave his arms and shout for the video to the stopped. ‘I believe everything you believe,’ he told the church group, ‘but we gotta go!’  And then they simply left.”

“Sometimes the wildlife in the district does not like the candidate.  A State House candidate was walking between houses a goose walked up to the candidate and relieved himself on the candidate’s shoe.”

“Everyone always complains about the weather during petition circulation, but sometimes going door to door has its perks.  A candidate and his staffer were out knocking on doors for petition signatures in the northern part of the state when the candidate realized he couldn’t find his staffer.  He then saw his staffer lean out of a house and wave him over.  The homeowner had invited the staffer in for a beer and to get out of the cold.”

11 Responses

  1. how about: circulator of petition is the candidate , who on the date elector signatures were being signed ‘circulated’ by candidate in Town A, ha circulator provably out of town far across the state in Town B. then add: bunch of elector signatures notarized with notary stamp /\’smeared’., turned out notary had expired license.. then add: bunch of forged elector signatures on petition, all in s ame had writing with names like pgh steelers who don’t even live in pgh .. allegedly ‘signing’ for a pittsburgh city council candidate. oops !

  2. I saw a “new one” last night.

    Candidate got her petition notarized the first day she received it, then collected signatures on subsequent days. Fortunately, I caught it early and she was only a half-dozen signatures into it.

  3. IT IS COLD DURING PETITION SEASON. ASK PUXANTWANEY PHIL. IT IS STILL WINTER IN ALL PARTS OF PA. How cold was it. I was circulating a petition for Gov Casey’s reelection outside the Bristol Pathmark. MY PEN FROZE. Had to go into the store to buy a another pen. that one froze even quicker. JUST SAYIN’

  4. Ches-mont: How’s that requirement working out for the Never Trumps? Any rich fool can pay people to go out and get signatures. If a qualified candidate is too busy working to feed his family to spend days petitioning, then he/she cannot run.

  5. 1) A “handwriting expert” (hired by a petition challenger) who claimed that the candidate’s own signature on the petition line was not the candidate’s handwriting.

    2) The petition heading for one column was: “street and number”. The person put the name of his street and his PHONE number.

  6. Well, yeah. The petition process is by design a way to weed out candidates – otherwise anyone would be allowed to file and run without any requirements.

  7. The petition process is really a method to weed out candidates, not to encourage them. Otherwise, the time frame would be enlarged. Insiders can pass theirs around at Party events, but outsiders must brave the cold of winter.

  8. My favorite was a petition challenge that on first glance appeared to be warranted. The signatures and other information looked like a “kitchen table” job as they were meticulously neat and appeared to have been authored by the same hand. However, it turned out the circulator had stopped by an order of nuns and the similar handwriting was function of strict Catholic school instruction, not fraud.

  9. Columbia County PA will close for accepting petitions at 4:30pm on March the 7th, 2017.

  10. His car accidents are not accidents at all. He is…the most interesting man in PA Politics.

  11. The last one hits home. I circulated petitions last year, and the last Saturday it was about 11 degrees outside and windy. I was out from 11:30 to 4:30 straight, but every 45 minutes or so a kind would invited me in for a few minutes to warm up.

    Word to the wise: unless you can do a petition gathering event yourself, just use the voter registration books and go door to door. That greatly increases accuracy. Doing the “standing outside a Giant Eagle” method is a complete waste of time and resources.

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