Petition with Respect

How this Councilperson petitions for Public Office (either for himself or for others) and how other petitioners and candidates do not:

Posted March 21, 2022

A message to the Enfield Democratic Party and the Tompkins County Democratic Committee this date:

One Petition of many; one candidate of many.

I should be out petitioning right now.  But instead, I’m here at the computer sensing the need to vent. This past Saturday and Sunday, I gathered petition signatures from a couple score of my Enfield neighbors.  It’s a slow-going process, yet also a labor of love; driving down roads, walking up driveways (sometimes in the rain), greeting children, dogs, constituents, and of course, a lot of old friends.  I took time to converse with each person I met who extended me a slice of their life for our visit.  I talked to them about the candidates running; especially those in contested races for Congress and State Senate.  I explained why I’d given these candidates my initial preference.  To those I met who said they needed more time before offering their signature, I handed them my literature—which, by the way, I’d copied at my expense.  I offered to return later should they welcome a revisit.  I politely moved on.  I treated each person with dignity and respect.  I should.  I must.  Face it; I myself will be on the ballot come next year.

That’s how political petitioning should be done.  As our County Chair, Linda Hoffman, recently wrote:

“Petitioning in 18th century America was instituted by the framers of the constitution to be included among the rights protected by the First Amendment….  As each of us continues the task of petitioning into our neighborhoods, know you are asking the Democratic voters to sign a petition as being part of a long tradition of pursuing civic and political action to achieve a much larger political social goal.”

Sadly, I fear that’s become yesterday’s thinking.

Saturday, I met an Enfield constituent who told a different story.  It was the second or third time I’d heard the tale this spring.  The person I met is a smart, middle-aged professional; politically engaged.  Many of you know her.  She hesitated to sign anything, because, she said, she’d been accosted on the Commons by a canvasser demanding she hurriedly sign a petition “to get some Democrats on the ballot.”  She could not tell me whose petition she had signed or for what office the candidate(s) sought.  I sense she was never told.

My constituent told me the Commons canvasser who confronted her was intrusive, almost to the point of grabbing her arm and refusing to vacate her private space until she’d signed.  There was no candidates’ table; just a person, a clipboard, and a pen.  My constituent became annoyed.

This is not the way to petition.  And such canvassers—I sense there are many—should be ashamed of themselves.  As our Chair has stated, to petition is to honor a sacred American tradition.  As a lawyer might put it, the petitioner holds a “fiduciary responsibility” to faithfully represent the signatory’s preference.  At a minimum, the petitioner should state clearly the candidate and office for whom and for which one’s signature advances.  Perhaps the prospect button-holed has already signed for someone else.  Perhaps he or she does not like the candidate.  Perhaps he or she needs more time.

Are any of our candidates for Congress or State Senate employing professional canvassers?  I’d like to know.  And if they are, such candidates’ decision will affect my own signature, my own vote, and also my willingness to petition for them further.  The pushy, heavy-handedness of which my constituent spoke casts a cloud of corruption upon our party.  And it furthers the Opposition’s well-worn narrative that we Democrats harvest votes for crass, partisan advantage, a seamy side of politics that opponents take it upon themselves to stop.

See you at your doorstep, but sorry, not on the Commons.

Robert Lynch

Councilperson, Town of Enfield


Postscript; May 2022:

As most know, judicial challenges have invalidated the State Legislature’s adopted Congressional and State Senate districts in the 2022 election cycle. New district lines will be drawn. That will likely mean our early-spring petitions for Congress and State Senate stand worthless, and courts will order a new round of petitioning.

Will you see me on your doorstep yet again later this year? That depends. As I’ve written here, I’ve grown a bit disheartened by the tactics others have chosen to use, including candidates I’ve chosen to circulate for. I welcome meeting you, my constituents. But passing paper on behalf of others has become a less-than-pleasant experience. Let’s see what the late-spring and summer bring. / Bob