A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Routes to Ballot : blue cards and green dollars

There are two ways to get on the county commission ballot around here: write a check equaling six percent of the annual salary of the position you are seeking or collect the signatures of one percent of the electorate. Every candidate and every campaign has to weigh the pluses and minuses of each strategy. 

For the County Commission seat I'm seeking I need 2,505 valid signature petitions. And if I don't hit that number and I still want to run, I'll owe $4,665.54. That works out to each card being worth $1.86 a piece. Of course the petition cards have to be printed and the Supervisor of Elections charges a dime to verify each one, but that still works out to a value of $1.75 a piece. 

For me the choice was easy. While I could have spent the time it takes to gather petition cards raising money to pay the filing fee, collecting signatures is a great way to meet voters and build a team. I confess that I haven't met 2,505 voters yet; but I do have volunteers who believe in my candidacy helping and between my personal efforts and the efforts of those working on my behalf, we are very close to having the total number of valid cards. 

The photo shows me holding a box of 1,300 petition cards ($2,275 worth) that I submitted earlier this week. It's not often I hold something of that value in my hands. And yes, the cards do appear to glow slightly when large numbers of them approach critical mass. It's best not to keep them all in one place, not because they might 'go critical', but because having all the cards around is a little nerve-wracking. While a common thief wouldn't perceive their irreplaceable value, a fire or auto accident while transporting them could create a debilitating hole in any campaign. That's why it is good to get them in the hands of the election officials for counting. 

Once submitted, candidates await the results to determine how many are valid (what the rejection rate is). Cards are rejected for a wide variety of reasons -- some are obvious like living in another county or if the signature doesn't match the one on file, others less expected; for instance if the voter died between when they signed and when the card was checked. Candidates have to collect enough extra cards to cover the rejection rate. That's crucial because the filing fee is not pro-rated -- if you collect 90% of the cards, you don't pay 10% of the fee -- you pay 100%! 

I printed my petition forms on blue card stock. The idea was to make mine stand out and be easily separated from others. Some people use small cards that are easily mailed but require precise writing. The form is dictated by election law and the layout is not designed to facilitate easy completion. Many people miss fields that need to be filled in.

Why do some candidates choose to write a check? Sometimes it is because their district is so spread out that driving hither and thither to find voters is problematic. Other candidates apparently have more money at their disposal than time. But most of the local Democratic candidates and the more grassroots-oriented local Republicans (like Jon Thaxton and Shannon Staub) go the petition route.  

I'm glad I went the blue card route. While those who sign my cards have no obligation to vote for me (some people sign as a courtesy even though they will vote against me), it is good to know that at a minimum one percent of the electorate has had a direct connection to my campaign. And in some races around here, one percent turns out to be a lot. 


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