Let’s Talk About Nomination Papers…

After you decide to run for public office and put together your initial campaign staff, the first two public events of your campaign are likely your announcement as a candidate and then collecting signatures on your nomination papers.

This seems like a simple task and in most ways it is. But there are some unique and interesting things that occur while you are doing this.

But let’s get the facts on the table first. Every candidate for elected office must collect a minimum number of signatures on their nomination papers. The signers must be eligible voters from the district the candidate is running in. So it varies dependent on the office. The information on the papers is defined by the appropriate election commission…city, town, county, state, etc.

Generally the information is the name, street address, city, state, zip, date of signature, and of course the signature (candidates will often request other optional information like phone numbers or email addresses. Not required but helpful to the campaign). The paperwork also must include the information on the candidate, the election dates and office information, and the data on who is collecting the signatures and the date that they do the work (it was this last bit of information that screwed up the Milwaukee County Executive race).

There are time periods for circulating nomination papers with set start and end dates. This is usually about a thirty day period. And there are always minimum requirements for the number of signatures and often maximums. The maximums are usually twice the minimum. The minimums are usually related to the size of district. For instance a Milwaukee Public School district has a minimum of 400 while the citywide seat has a minimum of 800. As we saw in the Milwaukee County Executive race, it is 2,000. Which actually seems high to me given information I received that it only takes 2,000 signatures to run for governor.

And the rule of thumb is collect twice the minimum (which is often also the maximum). Because there are times some of your signatures may get thrown out. Maybe the person isn’t actually in your district. Maybe they aren’t an eligible voter. Maybe they are one of the wags who signs Thomas Jefferson or Mickey Mouse (although you or your campaign staff should have crossed those out already). If both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Sullivan had submitted 4,000 signatures and all of them were valid except those that were thrown out in the Lipscomb campaign complaint, they’d still be on the ballot.

So who collects the signatures? Ideally it should be the candidate, but obviously no one person is going to collect 2,000/4,000 signatures in 30 days. Particularly in December for spring elections. People don’t answer their doors after dark…and no one in Wisconsin answers their door during Packer games. So some help is required. So my second preference is the candidate and campaign volunteers. People who know and support the candidate.

So my druthers? Reduce the number of signatures required to amounts that the candidate and volunteers can accumulate easily in the thirty day period. Make it illegal to hire solicitors to collect signatures. And solicitors, like those who sign the papers, should be eligible voters who live in the district. And this last portion I think is already implied in the law:

Those circulating nomination papers for a candidate sign a statement saying they intend to support that particular candidate.

I guess that depends on how you define support, but to me that means vote for the candidate. I guess I violated this one…I had a volunteer who didn’t live in my school board district. Oh well!

We shouldn’t be doing things to discourage potential candidates, we should make it easy to participate as candidates in elections for anyone and everyone with an interest in public service!


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