Petition Process with Kristina Keats CW 07- Transcript


PETITIONJohn Tsarpalas: The Commonwealthy podcast, training people who understand the benefits of small, limited government to win elections. This is episode number 7, the Petition Process. Today I’ll be rejoined by Kristina Keats, my friend and partner. And we will be discussing getting on the ballot through petition process. And the petition process is not only used to get candidates on the ballot, but it’s also used on the initiative and referendum process. So join us.


I’m here with Kristina Keats and we are going to talk about the petition process for states that do have petitions. Other states have other ways to get on the ballot. Here in Illinois, you have to get signatures of registered voters to get yourself on the ballot. And the number of signatures is determined by the board of election and you’ll get that information from wherever you go to get your packet of information, if it would be perhaps from the school board or the village board or county board or state board. Whatever, depends what level you are running at.

So you’re running, let’s say, for school board and required to have sixty signatures to get on the ballot. Or you are running for state rep and it’s more like two hundred and fifty, something like. That.

Kristina Keats: No, it’s more than that.

John Tsarpalas: It’s a thousand?

Kristina Keats: However many they require, just forget about that. Well, first off, you have to have at least three times what’s required because you will find when you get signatures that people aren’t registered or they don’t live in your district or they didn’t sign it right. And so you want to have a big margin to make sure that you get enough signatures, if you are in area that requires signatures.

In the state of Illinois, the purpose of petitions is to keep people off the ballot, not to get them on. And they have made it extremely complicated so that’s difficult to get on the ballot. Trust me, if the powers that be want you off, they can knock you off. In most states, it’s a more honest process and they actually use it to get you on the ballot.

But regardless of how many signatures you need, I’d like you to look at the petition process in a completely different way. Even though the process isn’t extensively to get you on the ballot, you should look at it as your first opportunity to gather information from voters. So it gives you an excuse to go up to a voter and say, “Hi, I’m Tina Keats and I’m running for school board. Would you be willing to sign my petition?”

It’s a way to open the discussion with the voters. So you should be gathering information so then as they are signing the petition, you talk to them. Find out what they care about, if they care about anything, what they know.

And so therefore don’t put any limit on how many signatures you get. If you can get ten thousand signatures, that means you talked to ten thousand people during the petition process. And when you finish getting the signature, you give them the literature. Even if they refuse and say, “Oh, no, I don’t want to,” give them the literature. It is a connection. Because winning in politics is about connecting with more people than your opponent.

John Tsarpalas: Well, they are going to see the name. It is also important to embed that name in their brain.

Kristina Keats: Right. And even though they are going to throw it away after eight seconds, they are still going to have seen your name. They’ve seen you, so that if they wander into the polls when the time comes, they might remember that they met you. The petition process is more important for making the connection and gathering information about the voters. If someone is willing to sign your petition, there is a good chance that they would be willing to vote for you.

So once the petition is signed, then you do a follow-up letter. “Thank you for signing my petition.” And again, you include your literature again. This is someone you talked to, someone who signed for you. And then even in that letter, “We need volunteers. If you’d ever be interested in helping, please contact,” and give them the contact information. So a petition signature gets you two hits: when you actually meet them and the follow-up hit.

John Tsarpalas: With the letter.

Kristina Keats: With the letter.

John Tsarpalas: Here’s how I like to do petitioning the best. That is, get a list of registered voters in the community. And in fact, if it is school board, look for people that vote in school board elections. And go door to door and knock on those doors. You’re not knocking on a door of an unregistered voter; they can’t sign the petition legally anyway. You are going to knock on doors of people you think will be voting and possibly vote for you.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So I would start there, door to door. And I’d have this list printed out and that way you’ve got somewhere to write down what happened in the discussion with them. You are running for school board. “Oh, I’ve got two kids in the district.” “Oh, I’m worried about my taxes going up.” Oh, I’m worried about Common Core.” Whatever they want to talk about when it comes to whatever you are running for.

Kristina Keats: Exactly. You are right. The petition process is really the beginning of your campaign.

John Tsarpalas: And it’s the beginning of your data gathering on voters.

Kristina Keats: Right, right. And in a small election without many voters, you are absolutely right you should do that. But let’s say you are really working hard and you have now been in every precinct knocking on doors and you still have time. Then it’s not a bad idea to go to the local grocery store and get signatures and pass out literature. It gets you in the campaigning mode.

But the best thing in a local election with very few voters is to go to those people who vote and talk to them and get them to sign your petition, absolutely. But it’s very time consuming.

John Tsarpalas: Sure.

Kristina Keats: Very time consuming. But you should also go if you are member of the Rotary, take your petitions to the Rotary with you. Then everybody at Rotary knows you are running when they sign your petition. If you work in a local business, same thing.

The petition process shouldn’t be looked at as just getting signatures. It is beginning of your campaign when you are gathering the information and you are gaining support.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And the petition is a wonderful opening line or door opener. It’s a reason for you to be talking to them. And people get that. And then they want to talk to you.

Kristina Keats: Right. Which is why even if you live in an area that doesn’t require petitions to get on the ballot, one of the things that I’ve found very effective is to do a petition about something people care about in the community.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And I’ve done all kinds of things. When gas prices were really high, we had a petition that was encouraging the state of Illinois to stop putting sales tax on gasoline. Because they were already getting the gasoline tax and then they taxed the tax.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And what we were really looking for were people who tax-sensitive voters. And people will say, “Well, everybody’s tax sensitive.” No.

John Tsarpalas: No, that’s not true.

Kristina Keats: Democrats are not tax sensitive. They would actually say to us, “We need higher taxes.” They’d say that. They believe it. But if you are someone who believes taxes are too high, you need to find the other people who agree with you. You can design a petition that does that. And then people say, “Well, what do you do with the petitions?” Nothing. You don’t have to do anything with it.

John Tsarpalas: Well, you take it and you use it as data.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: The data has value.

Kristina Keats: Right, the data has value, but you don’t have to file the petition anywhere. If you want, you could present the petition to your local state representative, the results.

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: If you wanted to.

John Tsarpalas: Right, you could make a press event out of it. You could do something with it that way, correct.

Kristina Keats: You don’t have to have a place to file the petition in order to do a petition. But it helps you. So if there is an issue, for example, in school board. Let’s say people are upset with Common Core coming into the schools. Then run a petition against Common Core.

One time we had a school board that was getting ready to send the children home at noon on Wednesday because some of other school district nearby was doing that. And they wanted to have Wednesdays off in our school district. Which who was that for really? The kids? The parents? I don’t think so. Because then the teachers could have an afternoon of planning time.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: Where they could have meetings, etc. Every single Wednesday our kids were going to be sent home early at noon.

John Tsarpalas: That’s a lot of planning.

Kristina Keats: And I did a petition to stop it and presented it to the school board.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: I wasn’t running for anything. And everybody, the parents, everybody was against the idea, everybody except the school board. So if you have an issue like that that you know people are upset about, even if you don’t need to do petitions to get on the ballot, run a petition. Find your supporters. It’s great.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Great way to get information. And then once you’ve got the petition, you go back to your database and you look up, “Joe Blow just signed my petition.” And you flag him as someone who signed your petition. You send him a thank you note. But this is someone who is likely to vote for you, agrees with you on this issue. You need to get that information.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So that’s something you could do long before the election even starts if you want to go out and try to gather information and things like that. Let’s talk a little bit about approaching people, petitions. Around here we work commuter train stations a lot for petitions.

I have found that different communities react differently with petitioning. Around here I do better when I’m very aggressive with the petitions- in the city, the suburbs. I come on strong, I do well.

Kristina Keats: Right. In other areas-

John Tsarpalas: In other areas, you’ve got to be very polite. You get wide outside the city area, rural area, you have to be very polite. It depends how you come to people.

Kristina Keats: And the other thing is that I’ve found, and this something that you just have to figure out about your area, when you are in an aggressive area where people are highly partisan like the city – wealthy areas tend to be more aggressive and more partisan both sides- then when they sign your petition, it is information that is valuable. It says they agree with you.

If you get out in the areas that are kinder and more polite, where they live their Christianity and I mean that, people are just nice and they’ll sign your petition. It doesn’t mean anything.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, they just want to help you get on the ballot.

Kristina Keats: They are being nice.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So you need to know about your area. If your area is a nice area, where people are just kind, they are helpful (like if you are in the grocery store, people offer to help you put your bags in your car if you are older), then the petition actually I found – because I always did analysis – there is an inverse relationship between they signed the petition and they agreed with you.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: Which means there is no relationship. So you need to know when you are talking to people. And you need to know your community and how they will behave so that you don’t misinterpret information.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about the equipment necessary for petitioning: clipboard and then pen tied with a string to the clipboard. Because people walk off with the pens unconsciously; I’m not saying they are stealing it. And a large rubber band around the bottom because the wind gets the pages and starts flipping them.

Something that I do when I am petitioning is I don’t use a clipboard; I use a piece of foam core. It’s sort of a rigid piece of Styrofoam. And I put petitions on both sides. And then I use three rubber bands: top, middle, and bottom. And again pen tied to it. Black ink because blank ink copies well. And as soon as it fills up, I can flip it over and there is a petition on the other side. So I’m not standing outside in the wind blowing and I can’t switch the page. I’m trying to switch the page.

And this is especially when I’m doing train stations, things like that, in the morning. And multiple clipboards. If I’m at a train station, grocery store, there are moments where husband and wife come up. Rather than have both of them stand there, one signs it then hands it to the next, I can hand it to two people at once.

Kristina Keats: I’ve done that with as many as six clipboards.

John Tsarpalas: I’ve done four max is all I’ve ever been able to juggle.

Kristina Keats: Well, you know, especially at train stations. They come five minutes before.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So you’ve only got five minutes and thousands of people.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So you get as many as you can. And then when you are going door to door to do it, one of the things that I like to do is to have a notebook so that you’ve got everything you need. Inside the notebook, you’ve got your walk list which tells you who lives there, etc. And then you put your palm cards in the pocket of the notebook. And then the petitions on the outside of the notebook. So you’ve got everything in one place and you are not digging through a bag to try and-

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: And another thing. When you are going door to door (we’ll talk about this, but since petitions will be the first time you do that), make sure especially if you have volunteers and it’s hot that you give them water so they don’t get thirsty.

John Tsarpalas: Right. If it’s dark, a flashlight.

Kristina Keats: Right. Everything that they might need in their door to door.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Also, cold- multiple pens kept in an inner pocket because ink freezes. I’ve been down this road. You can’t sign in a pencil.

Kristina Keats: Yes.

John Tsarpalas: So make sure that you can keep a couple of pens warm in an inner pocket and pull them out.

Kristina Keats: And the other thing is that on anything you do, whenever you are campaigning, it is really best if you can go with somebody.

John Tsarpalas: Yes.

Kristina Keats: Because it keeps you going longer. And if you get stuck at door where someone’s bending your ear for two hours or would like to-

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, your wingman.

Kristina Keats: Your wingman comes up and says, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we need John. I promised this lady that John would come by and say hi.”

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: So it gets you out of those kinds of situations.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But we’re going to talk more about that.

John Tsarpalas: Well, actually we have a podcast called Door to Door.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: So that’s coming up.

Kristina Keats: But just to get ready.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah. But go out prepared. Dress for it, layers that you can take off.

Kristina Keats: Comfortable shoes.

John Tsarpalas: Some comfortable shoes.

Kristina Keats: When I was working in an area where the houses were an acre apart, I took a bicycle so I could ride from house to house. Because again, being successful is all about how many people you have to meet and talk to and how much time you have. And you never have enough time.

John Tsarpalas: Well, the other thing is in a Republican primary (you and I did this), I drove and you jumped out and went to the door. Because we only wanted to hit registered Republican households in an area and they were far apart from each other. There were a lot of independents, unregistered, Democrats between each house.

Kristina Keats: Well, and it was cold.

John Tsarpalas: It was cold.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Yes, yes.

Kristina Keats: But in the summertime, I was riding the bike.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: And people are impressed seeing a candidate who works hard.

John Tsarpalas: Sure.

Kristina Keats: And a candidate riding a bike. Because a car wouldn’t work. You spend so much time getting in and out.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: I was going to every house, but they were an acre apart. So I could get much faster in and out with a bike.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, that’s good.

Kristina Keats: You don’t have to start it. You don’t have to walk to the car.

John Tsarpalas: Well, you get up to the front door. The car’s on the street.

Kristina Keats: I go right up the sidewalk and park the bike right at their step.

John Tsarpalas: Perfect.

Kristina Keats: It saved us tons of time. So just be creative about it, keeping in mind that thing that you want to do is connect to the most people possible in the least amount of time.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: That’s what it is all about.

John Tsarpalas: Also, be creative in your opening lines when you are petitioning. I found at train stations what worked very well for me was asking if they were registered to vote first. Because most people would answer that yes or no, and in that moment of them thinking about yes or no, they would connect. If I didn’t ask a question, they would just sort of blow right past me.

Kristina Keats: It’s a rule that applies in everything, phone calls, etc. When you are calling, you don’t just say, “Hi! My name is…” You are going to get people turning off. You start out with, “Is this Mrs. Smith?” And they know whether or not they are Mrs. Smith and they say yes or no.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: And if it’s no, you say, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” But if it is, “Oh, it’s nice to talk to you.” So that now you are having a conversation. Whenever minute a human being says something to you, you have a better chance of actually talking to them. If you start talking at people, you…

John Tsarpalas: Yeah. And petition is fun. I enjoy petitioning. You get out. You talk to people. If you are running for office, you get a chance to find out what’s on people’s minds and you are making notes of it.

Don’t engage too long at the door or with anyone person. This is a numbers game. If you are spending five minutes or longer, that’s way too much. It’s more like two minutes.

Kristina Keats: Right. Well, two minutes even is long.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, but you want to get a quick sense of who they are and move on.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: And then you are going to hit them up with that follow-up letter anyway. So everything is coming back, it’s going into a database, and you’ve got a letter you are going to send to these folks.

Kristina Keats: And you do it quickly. What my rule was whoever we talked to yesterday, a letter goes out to them the next day. Which means you need help. You need volunteers.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: But happily that’s the kind of volunteer help that is easy to find, where people love to come and stuff envelopes and that sort of thing.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: Imagine you. Somebody came to your door and then two days later you get a letter thanking you for talking to them. I mean, it shows a level of organization and competence that people appreciate, especially in this day and age when it seems like the government can’t do anything. Because if you wait and the letter goes out a week and a half later, they get it and they say, “Who is this? I don’t remember.”

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: Because that is the thing we cannot say over and over enough, that people don’t care and they don’t remember and they are not engaged in politics in general. And they don’t like politics. So if you want your visit to be impactful to them, to have an impact on them, you do a follow-up letter right away. They say in advertising you need three connects before they even start to have it-

John Tsarpalas: They say in campaigns they need seven.

Kristina Keats: Okay, maybe it is seven. Anyway, one connect is not enough. So when they sign the petition, you’ve got to second connect right away big. And the intensity of the connect helps, too. Seven connects two weeks apart is one thing; two connects within three days is another.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: It has a more powerful impact. Another thing that is a good thing when you send something in the mail is have a giveaway or something that they could keep like a magnet. If in your area the high school football team is a really big deal, then have magnets made with the high school football team calendar on it.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Kristina Keats: Another thing would be a magnet that gives helpful local numbers- the village hall, the school board, whatever. But you have to think of something that would be helpful to your community. If you have a professional sporting team that people care about, put their schedule on it. Maybe their schedule on half of it and the local high school on the other one. Come up with something that you can include in your envelope that will go on the refrigerator and stay there as a reminder.

John Tsarpalas: That’s a good idea. That’s very good. Okay, so we’ve given them the basic idea. Go out there. Enjoy the petitioning process. And also be creative with using petitions outside of campaigns. This is a good thing for activism.

Kristina Keats: Right.

John Tsarpalas: Tea party groups could be out getting valuable data for future campaigns not during an election cycle.

Kristina Keats: Right. And the further away you are from an election, the more likely people are to talk to you, believe it or not.

John Tsarpalas: Yes.

Kristina Keats: Because they don’t think you are after something. You are not after their vote. You are not going to harass them. You are not going to call them.

John Tsarpalas: Good, very good. Okay, well thank you and we will talk again.

Well, there you have it: the petition process, kind of the backbone of American politics. If you enjoyed our show today and if you would, big favor, go to iTunes and leave a review. That helps us more than anything. And of course if you have friends who are interested in politics, please pass on the word about this podcast.

Thanks for listening. We will be back next week with Paul Jacob, who is an expert in initiative and referendum. The petition process is used in other areas of politics. Talk to you then. Thanks.

Kristina Keats: Being successful is all about how many people you have to meet and talk to and how much time you have. And you never have enough time.

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