If you’re a registered New York voter, the peace and quiet of your evening at home may be pierced by a knock on your door from someone carrying a clipboard with a long sheet of paper (pink for Republicans, green for Democrats), asking for your signature. Or someone may have already visited you and you might be wondering what it’s all about.
This time of year is petition season in the political world. It’s the few short, hot weeks when candidates have to gather a minimum number of signatures from voters registered in their party, in order to get on the ballot. Archaic as it seems in the Digital Age, collecting signatures on paper and submitting them to the Board of Elections on time is the only way a candidate can get on the ballot.
New Yorkers are among the busiest, most sophisticated voters in the world. We don’t have much free time and are understandably suspicious of anyone ringing our doorbell and interrupting our dinner. It’s been a long, stressful day at work and we just want to feed our families and watch a little TV. The last thing a normal person thinks about at 7 p.m. on a muggy night in June is an election in November. We are, quite correctly, especially hesitant to sign a paper for a total stranger.
Before you slam the door and get back to “Dancing with the Real Housewives of CSI: Miami,” consider the plight of petition carriers and the service they provide.
Lots of us complain about not having a voice in government. We say the process is closed to us. There’s no way for the average person to have a say in who runs for office. It’s out of our hands. No one cares what we think.
But is that true? Do we really want a voice in the political process, or do we mean that we only want it at a convenient moment? The petition carrier soldiers through a curtain of humidity and apathy, night after sweaty night, to bring an opportunity to participate in the electoral process right to your door. You don’t even have to go to a poll site. In a few seconds, you can choose whether to help a candidate in your party get on the ballot.
Who are these Clipboard People? Some are paid, while most are volunteers. The process is especially grueling for Republicans, whose lower numbers necessitate going door-to-door. They go out (many of them after working all day) for a muggy night of walking around the city, getting Cool Hand Luke sweaty, searching for addresses, smiling and giving the same well-mannered explanation for their intrusion over and over, being barked at by strange dogs (and sometimes their owners), taking abuse from regular people who don’t understand what petitioning is and, understandably, just want to close the door and seal in the blessed air conditioning.
If not for the sense of passion and sacrifice for their candidate and the bright spots that come from talking to a lot of nice folks each night, carriers would easily go home as demoralized as they are dehydrated. A kind word or a brief, pleasant conversation with a voter is like an oasis for a petition carrier.
All civic-minded people need to be aware of this old-fashioned process, consider signing to get worthy candidates on the ballot and be polite to the Clipboard People. They are delivering democracy, right to your door.
Kevin Ryan is General Secretary and Communications Director for the Northeast Queens Republican Club.