I am currently collecting signatures to get my name on the ballot for Planning and Zoning Commissioner. This is after a failed attempt to secure one of three nominations officially sanctioned by the Democratic Town Committee. What follows is a personal story of trying to get on the ballot, along with some personal opinions on the municipal democratic process. Please note that this is not intended to be journalism: I believe everything to be accurate, but I am not a disinterested observer. A mainstream journalistic account can be found in The Middletown Press.
- Part 1 (posted July 28) briefly described my experience trying to gain the nomination of the Democratic Town Committee.
- Part 2 (today) covers the process of petitioning for a primary.
- Part 3 will be opinion and analysis of ballot access issues.
Municipal elections in many ways mirror those for state-wide or national office. Each political party selects its strongest candidate(s) for the offices that are to be contended, these are the choices provided on the ballot. In the general election, voters than choose between those nominated candidates.
The biggest difference is that in municipal elections the Democratic and Republican nominating conventions occur before a primary, if a primary even occurs at all. In municipal elections, a primary election is only triggered if a potential candidate petitions the party to have his or her name appear on the ballot. The winner(s) of this primary then appear on the November ballot as the party-nominated candidate(s).
The rules for petitioning are set by the State, and are the same for both major parties. There are technical details that require multiple readings and an occasional phone call to State or City officials, but the important requirements for collecting petition signatures are as follows:
- All signatures must be collected on Petition Signature Pages provided by the Democratic Registrar of Voters.
- These Petition Signature Pages are only available after the Democratic Nominating Convention. In Middletown, this was July 19th.
- Petitions can only be circulated by registered Democrats.
- Petitions can only be signed by registered Democrats, in the presence of the circulator.
- Petitions must be filed with the Democratic Registrar of Voters by 4PM on August 7.
- Each petition must be signed by the person who circulated it, and the signature must be given in the presence of the Town Clerk, or several other possible officials, including a CT attorney or a notary public.
- The required number of signatures is 5% of registered Democrats, I need 519 signatures.
After failing to be nominated by the Democratic Town Committee (see The Path To The Ballot, Part I), I went to the Democratic Registrar's office to request Primary Petition Signature Pages printed with my name and the office of Planning and Zoning written on them. Nancy Conaway-Raczka, the Assistant Democratic Registrar, was extremely helpful and professional. She carefully went through all of the rules with me, she gave me printed and electronic copies of lists of all registered Democrats, and she followed up with phone calls and emails to clarify any questions I had. All of the Registrars and Assistant Registrars work together to help each other, Janice Gionfriddo and Darlene Ghezzi have also helped with the process.
I began my signature collecting effort on July 25th, with an announcement on a campaign web page (https://www.facebook.com/StephenDevoto). Every day I post where I will be collecting signatures, the web has been surprisingly effective at drawing people who support my campaign to stop by. About a dozen volunteers have very generously donated their time to the signature collecting effort.
I was initially daunted by the prospect of getting over 500 signatures of confirmed, registered Democrats, in less than two weeks and at a time when many residents are on vacation. However, I have been heartened by the responses of people I approach for signatures. I get signatures from Democrats who are extremely supportive of anyone who wants to be on the ballot. I get signatures from Democrats who feel that the city's Democratic Party insiders do not represent them. I get signatures from Democrats who feel that the Planning and Zoning Commission has not done a good job for the City. And I get signatures from Democrats who feel that I would do an outstanding job as Commissioner.
It is fascinating and rewarding to speak to people outside of a business or at the door of their home. Many people open up with their concerns about the city or they praise or condemn its leaders. Several elected officials have not only signed, but given me strong words of encouragement. I have heard fascinating stories about the old days (my favorite so far: The 86-year old woman who told of how as a child of Greek immigrants she would catch turtles in the Connecticut River and bring them to Reverend Banks to cook).
The comments from those who explicitly refuse to sign have also been interesting. Several people have said that they or a family member are an elected official and therefore are not allowed to sign. Others have said that my goal of changing anything is hopeless and therefore they would not sign. Fortunately, there have not been too many of those.
Turning in the signatures and having them verified has been very easy. The Town Clerk's office accepts the signed Primary Petition forms, certifies the signature of the circulator, and then makes copies for themselves and the circulator. The Registrar's office then goes through each signature to determine if it is actually by a registered Democrat.
So far, I have turned in about 200 signatures, and volunteers have turned in another 200, about 80% of these have turned out to be those of registered Democrats. At this pace, the goal of 519 certified signatures looks much more realistic than it did a week ago.
I will be at the North End Farmer's Market today, from 11 to 2, and at the Oddfellows Circus at Macdonough School beginning at 4:30. Tomorrow I will be at Stop and Shop from 1 to 4. Look for the man with the clipboard and the shoes worn out from a week of walking the streets.