Sunday, July 25, 2010
For those of you that are involved in local politics you are very aware of how arcane and downright stupid the petitioning process is. To start off with, in order to appear on the ballot a candidate must collect signatures from 5% of the registered members of their party in the respective district up to a maximum number set by New York State Election Law.
So what's the big deal?
If you are asking that question then you have never collected signatures. From my experience, even in a "good" area (an election district with more than 100 republicans) the average collection rate is 3 per hour. That is the average! Some days you can go out for hours and come home with none.
The system is broken for many reasons. First, the weather can affect the number of signatures able to be collected and thus influence an election. I have no doubt that had the weather been better last February that Jonathan Judge and his team would have made the ballot in the Special Election for the 44th Council District.
Even if you achieve the minimum required you must be able to survive a "challenge" or an "objection" to your signatures. This is where lawyers get involved and tons of time and money get wasted. Getting someone kicked off the ballot is par for the course in New York politics. It has become an accepted tactical move and is usually not seen as circumventing the democratic process. I guess it all depends on which candidate's side you're on.
A quick note on the minimum number of signatures needed. In an Assembly District, no matter how many registered voters reside there, the maximum minimum number of signatures required is 500. So in a district where there are 10,000 registered republicans in an active status, the republican candidate must secure 500 signatures (5%). In the same district there could be 40,000 registered democrats. However, the democratic candidate need only to collect the same 500 signatures and not 5% which would be 2000 signatures.
Their (the democrats) pool is much bigger and yet they only have to collect the same number as we (the republicans) do. Fair? No.
Beside the weather, challenges, and minimum/maximum signature thresholds, there is the reality that it is the year 2010 and most people do not have people knocking on their doors very often. When was the last time a stranger knocked on your door or rang your bell and wasn't a food delivery guy or Jehovah's Witness?
Not only must we knock on the door but in this age of identity theft we have to convince people to sign their name on a pink sheet of paper and provide us with their address. Who is "us"? "Us" are the people (mostly senior citizens) that do the bulk of petitioning around the state for both parties. These party activists brave 100 degree temperatures in the summer and subzero temperatures in Special Elections like the one in February I mentioned earlier. This is insane.
Incumbents love the process. They sometimes say we need to reform the system but no one has or will ever get rid of this process once in office since it benefits them so much. An incumbent (of either party) usually has an army of supporters (a machine) and loyal District Leaders (I am one) that do all of this for them. They are insulated from the sweat and tears of petitioning ( I have not cried but have seen many people break into tears).
What needs to be done? I don't have the answer but I know that the current system is broken and undemocratic. Ballot access should not be affected by the weather and no party should have an advantage written into law.
In future posts and shows I want to discuss term limits for all and the unfairness of campaign finance when it comes to matching funds in New York City races.
Feel free to comment or vent.