Friday, July 25, 2008

Petitioning vs Bonusgate

The Morning Call posted this piece on their online version, on July 30, 2008. I kinda doubt that very many people read it, but there were a couple of comments. (Aug.11,2008)

I wrote this piece as an Op Ed for the Morning Call. I haven't submitted it yet - hope to in the next couple of days:

It’s that time of the year again – just before the August 1 deadline - when a few stubborn idealists stand in public places or go door to door collecting petitions for their parties and their candidates. I’ve been doing this for many years here in Bethlehem and throughout the Lehigh Valley, five times to get my name on the ballot the, and also to get other Green Party candidates on the ballot.

The work is often difficult because of those who refuse to sign, especially when they’re rude, or still angry with Ralph Nader for running for president in 2000. But the rewards out-do the disappointments. People say things like, “Oh, I’m all in favor of getting more people on the ballot.” And, “Everyone has the right to run for office.” Or, “I approve of the Green Party, even though I’m a Democrat.” People get excited over the prospect of more parties and more choices. They get excited about issues that more mainstream candidates won’t address. They get fascinated to see politics at work in such a grassroots manner.

Sometimes it’s the rough and tumble American spirit that comes through: “I’d love to shake up the system.” “There’s got to be someone better than the crooks in there now.” I prefer these folks who sign, even out of spite, to those who insist they don’t and won’t vote. Though I can understand them too. They don’t trust the system and refuse to participate in something that they see as rotten to the core.

Do you wonder why they think this way? Just consider Bonusgate, the latest scandal from the hub of Pennsylvania politics. Basically Bonusgate consists of party officials, in this case Democrats, using tax-payer money to deny the ballot to candidates who were running against their own party’s candidates. It was a behind-the-door action to undo the grassroots work described above. Think of all those citizens who decided, in a real face-to-face moment with a petition gatherer, that ‘yes,’ they would sign their names to this petition granting their citizen’s endorsement of the candidate’s or the party’s right to be on the ballot. Now picture a bevy of state employees recruited to scrutinize those signatures and remove as many of them as possible, regardless of the intention of the signers.

In a subversion of citizen’s rights, they invalidated signatures of those who used their nickname instead of their full name even if all the other information on the line proved it was the same person. They dropped the name of someone who made the mistake of putting in their mailing location instead of their voting location – Bethlehem instead of Fountain Hill, for example. Or the name of the person who put in the zip code instead of the date. A whole sheet of signatures could be invalidated because one person wrote the wrong date and set the rest out of sync. Some of the cuts were legitimate, but many were simply ruthless purging.

I know because I was there. Dozens of us volunteered in Harrisburg in an attempt to defend the signatures of the people with whom we had talked – at their doors, at festivals, in movie theatre lines, at ball games, in front of the library or post office. People who had smiled at us and thanked us for what we were doing. We drove from the four corners of the state to confront the myriad of interns, clerks, lawyers, office workers, that the Democrats pulled together in Harrisburg to destroy our huge effort to collect almost 100,000 signature to get Green Party candidates on the ballot for US Senate, Governor and Lieutenant Governor. We witnessed their will to find tiny technical errors that would allow them to eliminate petitions. Now we hear that many of those workers were given bonuses from the state coffers.

You’d think it would make us mad enough to join those angry citizens who drop out of the electoral process. Oh sure, we’re angry. But we’re stubborn idealists. So we’re back again – maybe you’ve seen us – trying to get enough signatures to put our candidates on the ballot so that voters will have more voices and more choices when they enter the voting booth. It’s called democracy.

Greta Browne