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COVID, weather prompts creative rethink of petition circulation

Monday, Jan 31, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

I’ve been fascinated by election petition-gathering season this year because of the adjusted primary schedule, the crazy Omicron variant and the prevailing fear of crime, not to mention the awful weather.

Petition season was always during the fall. But because the primary was moved to June 28, petition circulators now have to get out there in the dead of winter, during the COVID-19 and crime surges.

As Rep. Nick Smith (D-Chicago) said recently on Rep. Mike Zalewski’s (D-Riverside) “Have All Voted Who Wish” podcast, voters have been increasingly reluctant to come to their front doors for years, long before the pandemic. And these days, it’s far more difficult to convince folks to answer when the canvassers knock.

Smith’s solution was to ask his volunteers to work their own blocks, with the expectation that each person would gather 10 signatures.

But that only works for someone with an experienced and fairly large network like Smith has. What about others?

Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) is also the 49th Ward Democratic committeeperson and threw a boozy “petition party” in mid-January, advertising it on social media. She said the event was “amazing,” netting 625 signatures in three hours for 18 different candidate petitions.

I’ve also been told of members doing things like setting up shop in their local Starbucks and collecting signatures from people while they waited for their orders.

But Rep. Dan Didech (D-Buffalo Grove) is being hailed by some of his colleagues as a “signature machine” for what one legislator calls his “house calls” program.

Didech came up with the idea of scheduling home visits with voters in his district to collect petition signatures. “Sometimes,” a fellow House Democrat said, people even “grab a few neighbors so you can get a group.”

Didech pushed back hard against some fellow House Dems who wanted to reduce the statutory signature requirements during the early January session. “But I got 1,000 signatures in 10 days, so I feel vindicated,” Didech told me. “I’m not special. Everyone can do that.” He said he finished so fast that he’s now helping others, including those who wanted to reduce the signature requirement.

He explained because of the pandemic, he had already transitioned his voter outreach away from in-person contact at the doors and toward Facebook and direct mail. “People are used to communicating with me on those channels,” he said.

Didech posted a photo of a map of his new district on Facebook and told his followers he still needed some signatures. “Please comment or send me a message if it’s ok for me to stop by your house this weekend,” he wrote in the Facebook post.

“That one post generated 150 signatures,” Didech said.

He also sent a direct mailer to his supporters and strong Democrats in his new district to ask people to email him when it would be convenient for him to stop by their homes. Didech said his email inbox “completely blew up.”

His formula worked so well for one Chicago Democrat she only half-jokingly called Didech “the master” last week.

47th Ward Democratic Committeeperson Paul Rosenfeld is using Didech’s methods “with a lot of success.” Rosenfeld said he’s collected “over 500 signatures on 14 different petitions” that way.

But maybe not everyone can replicate this effort. First-time candidates or newer members with small supporter networks can’t always just magically generate home visits. And some districts aren’t as “connected” online as they are up in Buffalo Grove or the 47th Ward.

Even so, longtime Statehouse operative Mike Cassidy told me the story of how his 13-year-old daughter Cate finally took an interest in politics in January, so he agreed to help some friends gather signatures as a way of getting her involved.

Cassidy asked Cate to text her friends the night before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when they figured people would be home, to ask if she and her parents could come by with petitions.

“She not only went through her middle school phone book and social media contacts, but we pulled names from our Christmas card list,” Cassidy marveled. “We drove around town for about four hours collecting close to 100 signatures.”

“I have circulated petitions my entire career,” Cassidy said, which used to involve going door to door. “But unlike waiting for people to get home from work or targeting weekends, these days more people work from home due to COVID.” And he said people were “happy” to have guests who they knew and were confident were masked and vaccinated.


  1. - Chicagonk - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 1:19 pm:

    I see no reason why this can’t eventually be done online.

  2. - David Agnew - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 1:31 pm:

    Was talking to my state rep last week and she said she was having a very hard time getting signatures at the doors. Like 4 in two hours. I was a bit surprised because I had great response at the doors at this time for last year’s primary.

  3. - Tom - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 1:36 pm:

    Due to a federal court order, in 2020 some new party signatures were able to be collected online. I think before the system is widespread it needs to be better designed.

  4. - Back to the Future - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 1:38 pm:

    Have to admit reading these columns are getting to be a Sunday morning habit for me.
    If you have ever passed petitions then this article will bring back a lot of memories.
    Nice story about 13 year old Cate.
    We need more people like Cate in politics.

  5. - Donnie Elgin - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 1:45 pm:

    I see no reason why this can’t eventually be done online.

    I can think of two…

    Petition circulators must witness the signatures.
    Petition circulators must get their signed petitions Notarized.

  6. - MisterJayEm - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 2:11 pm:

    Collecting signatures is especially difficult for those of us who’s phenotype screams dangerous goon.

    I wish that more people would answer the door after they look through the peep-hole — but I can’t say that I blame ‘em when they don’t.

    – MrJM

  7. - SWIL_Voter - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 2:18 pm:

    Locally they did a drive thru signature event, but I think they only got a couple dozen signatures for the 2 hour event

  8. - Blue Dog - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 2:20 pm:

    I usually sign the petition of the first one who approaches. Regardless if I support him/her or not. This year first one was Schimpf. Yuk.

  9. - yinn - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 2:44 pm:

    I enjoy going door to door and occasionally have made appointments to get petitions signed. I also support an online option. Since running a campaign from a wheelchair I view the current process — fair or not — as somewhat ableist.

  10. - thechampaignlife - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 3:00 pm:

    ===I can think of two===

    Foolproof security, I tell ya. No way the trillions in e-commerce could ever beat the gatekeeping security of allegedly observed scribbles on paper by randos.

  11. - Soccermom - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 5:16 pm:

    It’s not just the pandemic, it’s the Ring doorbells. to put this in perspective — my friend’s daughter is selling Girl Scout Cookies. The little girl (who is darling) and her mom went door to door, as you do. AND NO ONE ANSWERED. EVEN WHEN THEY HELD UP THE COOKIE SALE SHEET

  12. - btowntruth from forgottonia - Monday, Jan 31, 22 @ 8:53 pm:

    Ground game ground game ground game.
    2022 style.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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