A system designed by and for politicians

When I ran for Congress a year ago, and I chose not to accept a dime of contributions, I thought I had access to a local radio show to tell the world that I had decided to pick up the torch and run for Congress.  I wrote up my proposal as best as I could and sent it in and said that I would be available.  I figured it was news and I would get free coverage.  The best laid plans of mice and men gang oft aglay!

My objective was to tell the listenership that a regular person from Pennsylvania, one of the almost 700,000 in District 11, and 12,500,000 statewide, was going to run for Congress.  That week, I drove to Luzerne County voter services, paid my parking fee,  only to find that the congressional petitions were available only from the state office in Harrisburg.  


Len Piazza, the head of Luzerne County Voter Services was kind enough to order the state packet for me online while I waited.  I had tried to find the links myself a number of times unsuccessfully.  Can it be intentionally difficult to discourage newcomers? hard. 

Once i got the packet in January, 2010, unfortunately, I was prohibited from requesting signatures until February, 16.  There is a three week period from Feb 16 to Mar 9 and that is it. Candidates have just three weeks. Again, I think this is intentional to make it difficult. I needed 1000 signatures but since Robert Casey Jr. knocked Carl Romanelli off the ballot by nitpicking 30,000 signatures in 2006, I knew I would need at least 1500 signatures to avoid a similar plight.

Any signature signed and dated any time other than during these three weeks is invalid and will be thrown out.  The reason they cannot be obtained earlier they say is that my obtaining signatures without waiting would place all the others who got their package later than I at a disadvantage.  He who hesitates is no longer lost. Ironically, it is the same three weeks for those who need 100 signatures as for those who need 1000 or 2000. 

While I was at Voters Services, I asked for the list of voters in my area, PA District 11.  Thinking that taxpayers such as I kept these offices afloat, I was surprised to find that the CD cost me $50.00.  The place is nice and clean and very new looking and the people there were all very nice.  Though I typically characterize government people as uncaring, slow-moving, and crabby, this was not the case here in Luzerne County.

Unfortunatley,  I did not have my checkbook, and they would not take credit cards, I had to leave fro home, came back, pay another parking fee after waiting for a spot to vacate (no visitor parking). Then I got to pay my $50.00.  Unlike most election transactions, at least I did not have to get a money order or a certified check. 

The state requires a Money Order or Certified Check for all items payable in Harrisburg, such as the $150.00 filing fee for the privilege of submitting the signature petitions.  Why make it so hard? The rules were made by politicians so that they could get reelected and others would not bother bucking the system. Luzerne County took a check, gave a receipt from an audit book, and life was good.  Does the State think that a personal check is going to bounce?  If a check bounced, would that not more or less eliminate a candidate?  So, why the requirement to have to go someplace else in order to get a cashier check or money order when a personal check is so much easier? Maybe the reason is that politicians like it being difficult, especially when they know the ropes.   

Don't you just hate government bureaucracies. To tell the truth, that is one reason why I am running again -- this time for the Senate.  I hope to help reduce stupidity in government, and the former representatives of the people who create and foster such requirements and behavior.

Now, once you get the material, then you must figure out how to get these things all signed.  The estimates are that one should be able to gain on the everage about six to twelve signatures per hour if you are prepared.  That sounds low but it is what the experienced suggest due to the following real life situations:

1. Nobody home

2. Home but peaking through the blinds

3. Lots of noise and scurry but the door never opens

4. Who dat?

5. Oh, we don't know him.

6. Is he from our church?

7. Can you come back when they are home and I can let you in?

8. etc. etc. etc.

As Ringo Starr would say, It don't come easy. You know it don't come easy.  

So, on the average, it would require about 100 hours to get 1000 signatures.  But everybody tells me that you need half again signatures (1500 total) since your opponent will try to have all your signatures thrown out because of errors.  The state in most cases knows the signature is of the person who actually signed it but in many cases, at the urging of the incumbent, they seem too anxious to strike a contested signature from a challenger's nomination petition.  The anxiety rolls over to the next one contested and the next and the next. A cynic might think that ballot access for an unknown candidate is simply unfair.

Why would a signature be contested?  Here's why:

Signature Line Challenges

  • Signer is not a registered voter
  • Signer resides in wrong district
  • Signature or data not completely legible 
  • Multiple counties on form
  • Address is wrong / Incomplete / Missing address
  • Incomplete / missing dates / Dates out of order
  • Ditto marks
  • Nickname or initials in place of full name
  • No cursive signature
  • Wrong / Fraudulent signature*

Once you get each signature, the petiton bearer (the one who agreees to carry your petition and request and obtain signatues) must have the sheet with as many as 50 signatures notarized in an affidavit.  This person is then referred to as an Affiant.  There are numerous reasons why, after all the work of collecting the signatures on a sheet is completed, the opponent may have the whole sheet stricken because the Affiant made a mistake.  The type of errors an Affiant might make are listed below:

Common Errors Affiant / Notarization [Sheet Challenges]

  • Missing / Illegible fields (if not pre-printed)
  • No dates / Illegal dates / Dates out of order
  • County in affidavit does not match county in preambleAffiant information missing / incomplete
  • Affiant not a PA registered voter
  • Notarization missing / incomplete
  • Notarization impress w/o “the box” stamp

Considering that about 1500 signatures are needed for a House run, to compensate for any errors that are found or purported to be found, it is an arduous and an onerous task for one to be able to achieve 150 hours worth of work in this regard. It is likewise as difficult to ask friends and family to donate up to 150 hours or more on your behalf.  Nothing in life worth having is easy. Now, I am running for the Senate and for this one must get 2000 signatures in three weeks, and of course that equates to 3,000 to avoid the error factor.

If you ever choose to run for Congress or the Senate, remember the rules are not set up so that an ordinary person can achieve the required signatures and have a job.  You may be as surprised as I was when you go ahead and you decide to give it your best.  When I went searching for the folks who would carry my signature petitions, the surprise for me was that I found many of my good friends and neighbors already committed to the established Democratic Party Machine. They had perfectly good reasons, mostly based on the notion of loyalty. They did not want the incumbent to know that they were helping me and so, to protect their relationships with the incumbent, they said they would vote for me but could not help me get signatures.  

We all know how this happens. Once a politician does a constituent a favor, there is a sense of indebtedness on the part of the one receiving the favor. The irony of course is that in most cases, it is the politician who set the field up unevenly, with all sorts of gates needing special keys and special passwords and special rituals.  As the builder, it is the politician who conveniently has the only steamrloller that can level the field often by having those who work for them taking the petitions and getting the signatures for their "employer." Of course, they never do this on the public's time, and they never receive compensatory time or additional pay from the campaign for these "favors."

Moreover, the incumbent politician is the only one who knows where all the gates are located, and who has the keys. He or she knows the passwords and the incantations, the special handshakes, and all that is necessary to open all the gates necessary to assure a headstart on all challengers. Moreover, they pull the same stuff on the public so when they do their jobs for you and you get something through the maze just a bit faster, they somehow create that sense of indebtedness.  You then are beholden to the politician for your child getting into College or your husband getting a job, etc. etc. etc. That is why it is so difficult to get bad guys out of office. Good people think they owe them merely for doing their jobs.

So, the politician makes it unfair and then takes credit for helping everybody cheat in order to win.  One's own competence for example, is not very important in gaining a government position of any kind. You know that.  Yet, if you happen to know a politician and there is something in it for love or money for the politician to grant you your wish, such as a job for your son or daughter or cousin or uncle or aunt, you will thank the politician profusely for helping you benefit from a corrupt system. 

Would it not be better if the field were built level with no special gates, keys, passwords, or rituals reaquired? Would it not be better if ordinary people competed fairly with ordinary people for whatever spoils there are in our system of government?  Of course it would! Would it not be better to not need a gatekeeper to have all the keys to success and instead assure that the best person gets what is deserved just as the cream rises to the top in whole milk.

Yes, my friends who hate corruption and petty politics and who hate gatekeepers and those who limit the ability of ordinary people to excel.  Yes, even my friends admitted that they had gotten a job or a favor or an edge for themselves, their spouse, their children, their cousins, their cronies, etc. from the current establishment, or worse yet, they felt that they were in the on-deck circle for the next opportunity. So, they could not help me publicly or they would be punished privately. 

Consequently, most were reluctant to put their name on my  petition as the solicitor (Affiant) of the petition for fear that in the future, they would have lost their right to a favor from "the machine."   I don't think I will have any problem getting my friends, even those in this compromised position, to sign my petition but getting petitions to all friends and enemies alike in three weeks is a major task. 

The machine has no problem getting this done.  I am not part of the machine and will not be part of the machine so it is very tough for me.  My task is lots different than having the "machine" get the petitions in after just a few days. Hey, machines are machines

The instructions from the state make one feel inadequte in terms of achieving the required signatures.  To parphrase, the rules counseled the candidate to hurry up and get this thing done and don't wait til the last minute.  It seems like it is expected that in most cases a machine of sorts will be doing the collecting. 

The final insult is that the documents all must come notarized and be presented by 5:00 P.M. three weeks after the period begins. They must be hand carried, unless you trust the mail, and either way, they have to be available on the last day before 5:00 PM since the bureaucrats do not work late. You enter an obscure room in Harrisburg PA and await the next station, one aftr another. . Yes, I had to drive 100 miles to Harrisburg as part of the process.  I went a few days early thankfully and it was still crowded. i felt if I had delayed perhaps there should be nobody but me and maybe no lines since the machines should have had all their signatures finished the first day. 

No, there is no provision to go to Voter Services in your home town to beat the deadline. Surely, our own people in our own counties can scan the petitions or at least copy them and send a truck down to Harrisburg from one county or from multiple counties. Even overnight mail won't do it because that is not in the rules. The onus to prove compliance is on the candidate.   

One might conclude that ordinary people are not supposed to aspire to public office.  The rules are made by those who do not have to follow them and who benefit by there being as many impediments as possible to multiple candidates. Yes, multiple candidiates is the hallmark of a democracy. It is no wonder that almost every person who runs for public office has a machine accent. 

I hope you enjoy this article which further explains the frustrations of being a candidate looking for signatures.

posted by Larry Littlefield
Sun, 08/23/2009 - 8:38pm

"The current city elections have brought the usual tales of candidates who wanted to run for office, but were kept off the ballot by New York State’s ballot access laws. As someone who once became fed up enough to run against my state legislator myself, I can tell you that those laws are designed to prevent elections, and make it exceedingly difficult to get on the ballot and speak your piece. The number of signatures required to get on the ballot for a primary against a major party opponent is large, and the time in which one is allowed to collect them is short, particularly for someone who has a job. Independent candidates, seeking to run in the general election when everyone shows up, require three times as many, collected in even less time. Minor party candidates, including Republicans in most of New York City, require fewer signatures, but must get the signatures of five percent of all party members in a district.

I can tell you from experience that the election rolls include many former voters who have either died or moved, meaning one must in fact get the signatures of ten or 15 percent of those who are actually there, and it takes half an hour to get each signature. And then, after all that effort, candidates are routinely thrown off the ballot for formatting errors."

Larry, I feel your pain.

Suppose Jimmy Stewart were running. He would need $10.00 for a Domain name and countelss dollars for Web Building Services. He would need  $50.00 to find out whose signature was legitimate, and then, he would have to file a $150.00 filing fee to the state for the privilege of running in PA.

Is that all Jimmy would have to do? In Pennsylvania, and across the country at election time for those citizens ready to take the plunge like say, Mr. Smith [goes to Washington], or say George Bailey, it is not really a wonderful life at election signature time.  Jimmy would also have to pay the $10.00 or more Notary Public fee for each petition sheet (can contain up to 50 signatures.)  No, the state won't even trust Jimmy Stewart so even his petitions must be notarized, which is another arduous and expensive provess.  So, in the last election, the 1500 signatures would typically equal == over $300.00 of Notary fees.  The same people who would claim there should be no poll taxes would help assure there are no candidates.
I am musing on a few topics. Does anybody know the answer to these conundrums and / or perplexities?  Maybe Jimmy Steward would want to know the answers to these quetions also.   

These are the kinds of questions that I have had that some of my most experienced political neighbors cannot answer.

Can I go into the "public" high rises and knock on doors for signatures?

Can I set a table up in the "public" highrises to request signatures of the residents.

Can I set a table up at the courthouse, or City Hall, or the Arena, or any public facility to request signatures?

At least it would be warm there.

Otherwise, it's knocking on doors in the cold of winter.

Does 1000 signatures help our democracy or hurt it?

It sure is easy to get discouraged looking at the 150 hours worth of work for gaining the petitions to run for Congress.  An employed person cannot do it by himself. The Governor or the Senate, my current venture requires 2000. Wow!  The laws seem to set the requirement for a machine, not a human, wouldn't you say?


The follwoing is a great piece about how ordinary people have to make the difficult decision to represent  "We the People,"  without becoming part of the politicial machine...

As you read this, remember, nobody wrote about Pennsylvania. Is that because all is well?  Our politicians and former judges in PA are taking the places of the dirty rotten criminals. So, dirty rotten socundrels are replacing dirty rotten scoundrels.


The best to all


A Formidable Barrier to Fair Participation
by Richard Winger

The Battle to Get on the Ballot
A more perfect democracy for the United States requires a shift to a more proportional electoral system; it also requires a better system of financing election campaigns. But even those two fundamental reforms are not sufficient by themselves. The United States, alone among the world's nations, also badly needs ballot access reform.

Very few people are aware of the ballot access problem in the United States. Each state writes its own ballot access laws, even for federal office. Since there is no single standard for the whole nation, the public and even the media are ignorant about ballot access laws. By contrast, the campaign spending laws (for federal office) are uniform for the entire nation, leading to the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign spending laws for federal office being familiar to the press and most political activists.

Little-known ballots access laws

How bad are the ballot access laws? Consider these little-known facts:

1. Even Democrats and Republicans sometimes have a difficult time getting on the ballot in some states. In one-third of all state legislative general election, there is only one candidate on the ballot for each seat. Even congressional elections are sometimes one-candidate affairs: in 1990, for example, one of the two major parties didn't run anyone in U.S. Senate races in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Virginia.

Among the barriers for Republicans and Democrats are the high number of signatures needed to get on primary ballots (especially true in Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico and New York), excessive filing fees (7% of the annual salary in Florida, which amounts to over $8,000 for Congressional candidates) and hyper-technical petition requirements (New York). Also, Arkansas still requires parties to pay for their own primaries in 69 of its 75 counties, and forbids a party from nominating anyone except by primary; this prevents the Republican Party from contesting even one-fourth of Arkansas legislative seats.

2. The ballot access barriers for Republicans and Democrats are nothing compared to the hurdles faced by other candidates. The ballot access laws for new and minor parties to get on the ballot for Congress are so tough, that not since 1920 has any third party been able to place candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives on the ballot in even half of the districts! Consider barriers in the following states:

* Georgia: The legislature passed a law in 1943 requiring that new party and independent candidates submit a petition signed by 5% of the number of registered voters in order to get on the ballot for any office. Previously, any party could get on the ballot just by requesting it. The result has been that since 1943, there has not been one third party candidate on the Georgia ballot for U.S. House of Representatives.

* Florida: The ballot access laws for third parties and independent candidates have been very severe ever since 1931. Since 1931, there have been only two third party candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives on the ballot and only one third party candidate for the U.S. Senate. There has not been a third party or independent candidate on the ballot for Governor of Florida since 1920. Currently, a filing fee of 7% of the annual salary of the office is also required unless the candidate is a pauper, while a third party or independent candidate for any statewide office (other than president) needs 196,255 valid signatures -- no independent candidate in any state in the U.S. has ever successfully complied with a signature requirement greater than 134,781 signatures.

* Arkansas: The legislature passed a law in 1971 providing that new parties could not get on the ballot unless they submit a petition signed by a number of voters equal to 7% of the last vote cast. Because this law in 1977 was held unconstitutional (courts have since held that petition requirements cannot exceed 5% of the electorate), the legislature changed it to 3%. No political party has ever succeeded in getting on the Arkansas ballot, under either the 7% or the 3% rule -- partly because the state requires that the petition be completed in the four months during the odd year before an election year.

* West Virginia: Third party and independent candidates for office (other than president) must circulate their petition before the primary. It is a crime for any petition circulator to approach anyone without saying "If you sign my petition, you cannot vote in the primary." The law can be enforced because it is illegal for anyone to circulate a petition without first obtaining "credentials" from election officials for this purpose. Furthermore, it is impossible for third party or independent candidates (not running for president) to ever know in advance if they have enough valid signatures because if anyone who signs a candidate's petition then votes in a primary, the signature of that person is invalid. For candidates, it is impossible to know who will actually vote in the primary, and it is too late to get signatures after the primary.

Better Ballot Access Abroad

Great Britain and Canada can be criticized for their "winner-take-all" system. However, at least ballot access in those countries is equitable and fairly tolerant. In the most recent national elections in both countries, there were four or more parties on the ballot in a majority of parliamentary districts. Ballot access rules are the same for all parties in Great

Britain and Canada.

In Britain and Canada, it is possible for observers to tally up the popular vote for each party, across the whole nation, and compare the share of any party's share of the popular vote with its share of seats in Parliament. In the United States, we haven't even achieved that level of expression in the election system. The United States needs a more proportional system of voting and reform of the campaign spending laws. The U.S. also needs ballot access reform.

Richard Winger is the editor and publisher of Ballot Access News.

End Note:  When elected, I will serve just tow years and I will work to make uniform ballot access laws for all states  and I would remove all the unnecessary fees and obstacles so that the best candidates can come forth and we will not have to know them by their machine accents.