Many people don’t know that in order to run for office in Rockville, you need to submit a petition signed by 100 registered voters who live in Rockville. Persons running for state senator or delegate don’t have the same requirement, so at first I was a bit puzzled and wondered why we had to jump through this hoop. Now that I’m in the process, it does make sense. If you’re running for public office, you need to be serious and have sufficient support from the community to place your name in the hat. It does require time, but much more time will be needed if you’re elected. Finally, it gets you out in the community–few people know one hundred people that meet the qualifications–and meet your fellow citizens. That’s what I’ve enjoyed most about the process.
My signature collection process has been very strategic. First, I privately asked people who knew me best and could offer friendly advice about the process and suggest how I could clarify my message. I then went public with a booth at the Memorial Day festivities downtown to meet a broad range of people (most of whom weren’t from Rockville, but it gave me insights into who visits and shops). Now I’m going door-to-door to various neighborhoods to meet registered voters, starting with my own neighborhood of Twinbrook. Here’s what I learned so far:
1. Most people are very willing to sign a petition as long as you clearly explain what it’s about. Some have never done this before and are a bit puzzled, but once they understand, they’re typically very willing to be part of this democratic process. Some wanted to be sure that their signature wasn’t an endorsement–I assured them it wasn’t and that they shouldn’t vote for me in November if it turned out I was a bum. Only a very few declined (some didn’t want to get involved, others declined for religious reasons).
2. My neighbors are incredibly diverse, much more than I would have imagined. Just one mile of Twinbrook Avenue, where I live, has an incredible range of ages, races, ethnicities, religious affiliations, interests, educational levels, home languages, and incomes. I met some really interesting people (gosh, I’m glad they’re my neighbors) and some others that I worry about (their homes are really getting frayed at the edges–are they doing alright?).
3. Most registered voters don’t vote in city elections. I carry the list of registered voters with me so that I only go to houses where someone is eligible to sign my ballot. Along with an address, I have each voters’ name and if they voted in the last three municipal elections. As I study the list, it’s easy to see that very few people vote in city elections. Are they disengaged? Too busy? Don’t care? Don’t know who to vote for? Are sufficiently satisfied that they don’t feel a need to go to the polls? I hope I can find out more this fall, but pursuing residents who don’t vote is an uphill climb for a new candidate (and for those who do vote, you exert much more influence than you probably imagine).
4. Now this is a bit worrisome, but a surprising number of people seem to leave home for days and don’t disguise it. It’s the middle of Sunday afternoon and the drapes are drawn tight, no cars in the driveway, a couple decaying newspapers have collected on the front steps, and there’s mail sticking out of the mailbox. I ring the doorbell and there’s no answer. Really, folks, you’ve left far too many signs that you’re not home. I’m not a career criminal but I can spot an empty house. Get the mail stopped, leave a radio on, arrange for a neighbor to pick up your papers–make yourself less inviting. You’re right, our neighborhoods are safer than most, but that doesn’t stop people from outside town from looking around.
I’m now going to gather signatures in neighborhoods that seem to be disconnected with Rockville. The “Lincoln Park/East Rockville” precinct has 2,175 registered voters but only 371 voted in the 2007 municipal election (that’s 17%). The “Falls Grove/Glenora” precinct has 3,884 registered voters but only 530 voted in the 2007 municipal election (that’s 14%). Remember, that’s based on registered voters, not everyone who was over 18 (voting age)–the percentages would be much lower.