Petitions for mayor can be turned in today

Collecting thousands of signatures is no easy task

November 15, 2010

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(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Bob Palmer snags a signature for mayoral candidate Miguel del Valle.

Long lines will form Monday morning at the Chicago Board of Elections. That's because candidates for mayor, city clerk, treasurer and aldermen can start turning in their nominating petitions Monday. Mayor Daley-wannabees must submit 12,500 signatures to get on the ballot. But it's not always easy to get people to sign.

It was not been the best night of signature collection for Jonathan Logemann.

LOGEMANN: Yes, sir. Are you a Chicago voter?
PASSERBY: Yup. I just got to catch a train.
LOGEMANN: It's just two seconds here...for Rahm Emanuel signature if you're interested. Alright. Thank you.

LOGEMANN: Tonight it's been awful. I only have six viable ones.
HUDZIK: What's that, in like 45 minutes or so?
LOGEMANN: Yeah - in about 45 minutes, which is terrible.

In the middle of Chicago's Loop, Logemann, a high school teacher, is volunteering for Rahm Emanuel's campaign for mayor, which apparently is reason enough for some people to ignore him, and others to...

LOGEMANN: I even had one person say 'F-off' to me today.

Okay, so, a tough crowd this day. But Logemann says he's collected hundreds of signatures for Emanuel in the past month. And he has a system.

LOGEMANN: Well, I just try to kind of open up my arms and ya know, like, 'I come in peace. I'm not asking for your money or anything.' Ask them if they're a registered Chicago voter. You know, just try to put a smile on your face.

Monica Embrey has another trick. She's a volunteer for Miguel del Valle's campaign for mayor.

EMBREY: I actually like waving, and just saying hi...
HUDZIK: You wave. You wave at them. As they're walking down the street?
EMBREY: Yup. And not when they're right next to me. But when they're a couple feet back. So they know that's who I'm talking to.


 

Standing below a loud El stop in Chicago's loop, around noon, Embrey is holding two clipboards.

EMBREY: It makes it faster for people. They appreciate that, too.

And it's working. She gets 46 signatures in about an hour. Embrey is unemployed, volunteering for del Valle about 20 hours a week. Some campaigns rely on paid signature collectors. And others use a mix of  volunteers and campaign staff - staff like...

REYES: I'm Robert Reyes. And I'm a community organizer on the Gery Chico campaign for mayor of Chicago.

These past few weeks, signature collection has been his life. I caught up with Reyes in the city's Beverly neighborhood, outside a Starbucks, in the morning, which - he admits - is not the best time to intercept  potential signers.


 

REYES: When someone's walking, I try to get in their walkpath, and then when you get in their walkpath, it's a lot easier to stop them.
HUDZIK: It's harder for them to just keep walking past, I guess.
REYES: Exactly. Exactly. You literally stop them in their path.

I don't want to give you the wrong idea about Reyes. He's not body-blocking anybody. But he is persistent, and says - when talking about Chico's campaign - he delivers different messages to different people.

REYES: Like, mothers want to hear about education. Sometimes the gentlemen want to hear about jobs. Depends on the neighborhood. If we're on the West Side or the Southwest Side of Chicago, they want to hear about, what is he going to do about the cops? Are we going to get more cops on the beat?

And these are big questions that some Chicagoans want answered before they sign. That said, signing a petition in no way ties a voter to a particular candidate. They can vote for whoever they want. But they are only allowed to sign one petition for each office, like mayor or alderman, according to Jim Allen with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

ALLEN: Technically, it's illegal for anyone to sign more than one petition for a candidate for that office.
HUDZIK: Illegal for the voter? Like the voter is doing something illegal when they sign two?
ALLEN: Yes, but I don't want to scare anybody. I've never seen, and no one that I know has ever seen, anybody prosecuted for signing more than one petition.

But those extra signatures might not end up counting. You see, campaigns for mayor have to turn in 12,500 signatures - valid signatures.

ALLEN: But this is a process that involves humans and humans sometimes make mistakes.


 

So mayoral campaigns plan to turn in at least two or three times as many signatures as are required, so their candidate doesn't get booted from the ballot. That's because their opponents may go line-by-line through their petitions, and object to signatures if the voter isn't registered, or they're registered at an old address, or maybe the signature itself just doesn't match what's in the computer.

ALLEN: Someone who registered with our agency perhaps 20 years ago, your autograph may have changed over time.

During the last election for mayor and aldermen, Allen says 208 objections were filed. Objections can take weeks to settle, longer if they wind up in court. Some candidates will lose so many signatures in the process that they won't be candidates anymore. And no crew of volunteers, smiles, waves or sidewalk body-blocking can get them back on the ballot.