Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ballot Petitioning for GOP Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson

Today my friend from Nelson County, Doug Hornig, and I spent about two hours on Charlottesville's downtown mall collecting petition signatures to put the name of former New Mexico Governor Gary E. Johnson on the Republican presidential primary ballot in Virginia.  The primary election is scheduled to take place on March 6, 2012.

For a long time I have said that the hardest job in politics -- with the exception of asking people for money to finance an election campaign -- is collecting petition signatures.  Over the past 20 years, I have probably gathered thousands of such signatures, both for candidates and for ballot measures.  To do so requires an ability to deflect rejection with aplomb (or at least not take it too seriously).  Most people are unfailingly polite, even if they refuse to sign, but even in the course of a few hours, one is likely to encounter a surly character who makes it clear that he holds you or your candidate or cause in disdain.  It's best just to ignore such people and return to the task. 

Petitioning is not an appropriate time for campaigning or engaging people on the issues or the merits of your candidate. If people ask for information, give as much as necessary to help them decide whether to sign, but focus on the goal of gathering as many signatures as possible in the shortest period of time, because the actual campaign can proceed only if your candidate qualifies to be on the election ballot.

On the flip side, however, comes the pleasure that circulating petitions in a place like downtown Charlottesville offers an opportunity to interact with friends and neighbors.  It's practically inevitable that in Charlottesville, you run into people you know.  Indeed, today, I chatted briefly with Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Wagner; local activist (and actor -- check out Superior Donuts at Live Arts beginning next week) Sean McCord; locavore, hunter, and author Jackson Landers; and Jack Faw, who brought the Ron Paul blimp to the Charlottesville area during the 2008 presidential campaign. It was fun to see them all, perhaps mostly because it was so unexpected.

Another unexpected thing was discovering that Charlottesville's downtown mall is not a gathering place for locals alone.  I collected about 35 signatures but only a small fraction came from people who live in the city of Charlottesville or Albemarle County.

It seems that on sunny autumn days, Charlottesville is a destination for people from all over Virginia.  The signatures I gathered today came from residents of Loudoun, Greene, Augusta, Bedford, Chesterfield, Clarke, Greene, King William, Loudoun, Louisa, Rockingham, and Spotsylvania counties, as well as the cities of Richmond, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach.

On the back of my clipboards, I have "Gary Johnson for President" in large block letters, two photos of Governor Johnson from his visit to Charlottesville, and his campaign web site address,  I don't have any literature to hand out but I did write the web site URL on both sides of the Free Speech Monument chalkboard near City Hall.

My usual pitch is simply to ask, "Are you registered voters in Virginia?"  If the answer is yes, I say, "We're collecting signatures to put Governor Gary Johnson on the ballot for the March presidential primary.  This isn't an endorsement or a promise to vote for him, just saying you'd like to give him a chance to compete with the other candidates."

At that point, some people say, "Sure, I'll sign."  Others ask, "Who is Gary Johnson?" and that gives me an opportunity to explain that he served two terms as governor of New Mexico, he climbed Mount Everest, he's a successful entrepreneur.  If necessary, I'll size up the voter and quickly decide whether to mention specific issues, such as Governor Johnson's success at shrinking the size of New Mexico's state government, his plan to allocate Medicaid and Medicare to the states in the form of block grants so they can be "laboratories of innovation" and "laboratories of best practices," and his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With others -- such as the couple selling tie-dyed t-shirts near the carousel -- I simply point out that Governor Johnson favors legalizing marijuana.  (That line got me more than a few signatures today.)

Grassroots supporters of Gary Johnson in Virginia will continue to collect ballot petition signatures until the turn-in deadline of December 22.  A good many volunteers will be deployed at polling places on Election Day (Tuesday, November 8) all over the state.  That day will be particularly fruitful because virtually every person you meet in those locations will be registered voters from a particular location, meaning that each signature is pre-qualified and categorized by city or county, which is required by State Board of Elections rules.

Anyone who is interested in participating in the Gary Johnson presidential petition drive in Virginia can learn more about the process and express interest in volunteering at the "Virginia Grassroots for Gary Johnson 2012" or the "Virginia for Gary Johnson" Facebook groups.  There is also a Virginia for Gary Johnson Meetup group.  ( was instrumental in the early momentum of Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 and for Ron Paul's juggernaut in 2008.)

Like those of all other statewide candidates, Gary Johnson's supporters have to collect 10,000 signatures, including 400 from each of Virginia's eleven congressional districts, by the December 22 deadline.

Readers may also like:
Gary Johnson's Pursuit of Scrappiness
Governor Gary Johnson Plays 'Not My Job' on NPR
Gary Johnson on WINA's 'The Schilling Show'
Gary Johnson Speaks at CPAC 2010
Former NM Governor Gary Johnson to Speak in Charlottesville
RLC Videos: Peter Schiff and Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson wins RLC straw poll, places third in CPAC poll exclusive: Gary Johnson reflects on his first visit to Jefferson's Monticello
CPAC bars GOProud; presidential candidate Gary Johnson presciently weighs in
At the 9/12 March on Washington: Former NM Gov. Gary Johnson aims 'to put a voice to the outrage'
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