The rules for getting yourself on the ballot differ depending on what office you’re running for, where you’re running, and whether you’re filing as a partisan or independent candidate.
In partisan cities, for example, candidates for municipal office filing as a Democrat or Republican need to get a specific number of signatures from registered voters in their party and file to run in a primary election. The bigger the race, the more signatures you’ll have to collect; a candidate for a city council race might be required to only get 25 valid signatures, while a state senate candidate may need to collect hundreds.
Every race, though, has one requirement in common: you must gather valid signatures to get your name on the ballot. Rather than looking at it as a chore, however, smart candidates incorporate the signature gathering process into their campaign strategy. If you use your election petitions the right way, they can become a goldmine of resources for your campaign and help you build a network of supporters who can play an important role in your political success for years to come.
First, a common-sense tip that you probably already know: always get more signatures than are required. I’m amazed at how many prospective candidates get rejected from the ballot because they only gather the bare minimum number of signatures . . . and then a few of those turn out to be invalid. If you only need 25 signatures to get on the ballot, then you sure as heck better collect at least 50. If you need 50, then collect at least 100.
The easiest way to win an election is to make sure that you don’t have an opponent . . . and believe me, your signatures are going to be checked and double-checked by the opposition. Don’t give them an easy win by being lazy and getting yourself kicked off the ballot.
What many first time candidates don’t realize, though, is that gathering signatures for your petitions is a great opportunity to jump-start your campaign and build a dynamite initial supporters list. The signature gathering process is a perfect excuse to get voters to make an early commitment to your campaign, amass names to add to your contact spreadsheet, and to send out hand-written thank you cards to voters in your district.
Every person who signs your petition is an almost guaranteed vote for you on election day, so why limit yourself to only the minimum number of required signatures? The first time I ran for office, I looked at the signature gathering process as an essential opening salvo in my campaign, and I worked as hard as I could to gather hundreds and hundreds of signatures . . . even though I only needed 50 signatures to get on the ballot as an at-large city council candidate.
Getting signatures was so important to me, in fact, that even took an ad out in the local newspaper asking every resident in the city to contact me if they wanted to sign my petition. I received dozens and dozens of messages from residents, and I made a special visit to each of their homes to let them sign my petition. This gave me a reason to meet them personally, got them excited about my campaign, and built a lot of early momentum for my candidacy before I had even filed to run.
While I was getting their signatures, I also asked them if I could put a sign in their yard during election time (most of them, of course, said yes). Additionally, I asked them to tell their friends and family about me; sent each one of them a hand-written thank you card; added them to my contact spreadsheet; and sent them frequent updates about my campaign fundraisers and volunteer opportunities.
If you take my advice and really bust your rear end to get as many signatures as possible, then there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have a huge list of supporters by the time you file to run for office . . . even if you hardly knew anyone in the community before you decided to run.
There are plenty of easy ways to find people to sign your petitions: use paid promotion on social media; take out cheap ads in your local newspaper; sent letters and make phone calls to registered voters in your district; visit people at their homes and knock on the door. The more work you put into this first leg of your campaign, the less you’ll have to do later down the road.
There’s one “problem” with my strategy of letting anyone and everyone sign your petitions, though, and you may have already realized it . . . not everyone who ends up signing your petition will be a valid signature! If you’re running in a partisan primary, for example, then only registered voters who are from your party can provide a valid signature. And many people who ask to sign your petition won’t even be registered to vote (although they might think they are).
That’s just fine . . . let them sign anyway.
Yup, you heard me right: don’t discourage people from signing your petitions, even if their signatures won’t count toward your total. A few invalid signatures on an otherwise legitimate petition won’t keep you from getting the ballot, as long as you have the required valid amount when you turn them in. If someone is really excited about signing your petition, then you shouldn’t keep them from being a part of the process. Don’t even tell them that their signature won’t be counted; just let them fill it out, and send them a thank you card just like you would everyone else.
If you’re really worried about only including valid signatures on the petitions you turn in to your local board of elections, then here’s a simple tip: keep some extra “throw away” petitions handy along with your legitimate petitions. When someone asks to sign who you know is in the wrong party (or who isn’t registered to vote at all), then let them sign the “throw away” petition. They’ll still get to feel like part of the process because they signed your petition, you’ll be able interact with them personally and add them to your contact list, and you won’t need to jeopardize your legitimate petitions with invalid signatures.
The mantra of this book is “the harder it is, the better it works” . . . and that goes for the signature gathering process, too. It might be the first step in your nascent political campaign, but don’t be lazy and only collect the minimum number of signatures. Bust your butt, take the extra time to get as many signatures as you possibly can, and you just might discover that you actually won your race before you ever even filled the paperwork to get on the ballot.