Although it really doesn’t mean much to the general public, one of the big things among political activists in Virginia is the process of gathering petition signatures to get a candidate’s name on the ballot. The amount of required signatures varies depending on the office being sought, but a seat in the local government and the House of Delegates calls for candidates to submit 125 signatures from people registered to vote in the district. The state Senate mandates 250 signatures and candidates running for office in 2019 could officially start their efforts today.
There’s always a game to see who can deliver their petitions to the election officials first because the first one there will have their name on the ballot first — a move that some argue could be beneficial in a low turnout election where people aren’t really familiar with the candidates. Plus, campaigns always hope they turn in the most signatures in an attempt to influence the media narrative surrounding the race. And the deadline is so early in the election season that even newspapers as large as the Washington Post will usually cover the process.
Although most of the general public isn’t even aware of the requirement, political insiders and reporters pay attention to it because it is one of the first “tests” a campaign faces. And while it’s very achievable for any legitimate candidate, it really can be a challenge.
When I worked as the Netroots Coordinator for a Lt. Governor candidate back in 2009, I was one of several senior staff members who traveled from our headquarters in Alexandria down to Harrisonburg the day before the deadline because we needed more signatures from that Congressional district. Statewide candidates need 10,000 signatures with at least 400 from every Congressional district in order to get on the ballot. In addition to actually gathering the signatures, tracking, verifying, and making sure such a large number of signatures are notarized is quite ordeal.
It can also be such a challenge that some campaigns actually get into some legal trouble after committing fraud during the process. In Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, for instance, former Rep. Scott Taylor got into trouble as his campaign staffers were involved with submitting forged signatures for a candidate running as an independent (they were hoping to get her on the ballot to dilute the Democratic vote).
This year, candidates are taking to social media to help their signature gathering efforts. Ian Serotkin, who’s running for the Loudoun County School Board, for instance, posted on Facebook that he was “out collecting petition signatures all day today to officially get on the ballot this November for school board!” Kenny Boddhe, who’s running for the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, sent out an email saying he’ll be at a Panera Bread in Woodbridge “from 9 AM – 2 PM collecting signatures” tomorrow.
Other candidates like Linda Sperling and James Walkinshaw posted pictures on social media of the first signatures they gathered — usually from family members. Walkinshaw’s post had at least 65 “likes” on Facebook, which isn’t a huge amount but still shows how political insiders can get into petition gathering.
Nobody will be even remotely thinking about the petition signatures in a few months, but it does serve as a reminder that we actually have elections this year in Virginia. Hopefully this process will help make a few members of the general public aware of the state and local elections and the issues being discussed, especially now that we’re only days away from the General Assembly session starting.