Gathering signatures in the snow

I’ve made no secret of my support of Ed Markey in the upcoming special election for the US Senate. I like his position on the major issues of the day and I don’t like the idea of adding another vote to the Republican caucus in the US Senate. But my reason for writing today is more practical than philosophical.

The first task in this as in any other campaign is gathering nomination signatures. To run for Lowell City Council, you need the signatures of at least 50 registered voters. To run for US Senate, you need 10,000. The official nomination signature petitions were issued by the Secretary of State’s office a little over two weeks ago and the deadline for submitting the signatures to local election officials for certification is February 27 which gives a candidate the month of February, more or less, to collect the necessary signatures. As this story in Wednesday’s Globe pointed out, that is no easy task, especially when the fifth biggest snowfall in recorded history comes right in the midst of it.

Most people have signed nomination papers but not many have collected them, especially in cold and stormy weather. Here are some helpful hints for anyone who would like to try it out and for those just curious. Wear layers of your warmest clothes and don’t skimp when it comes to keeping your feet warm (an old saying from the Army, “if your feet are happy, you’re happy” remains true). Gloves or mittens, however, tend to be an impediment. Nomination signatures once collected must be turned into individual town halls for certification against the voter rolls so you can’t put Chelmsford names on a Lowell sheet or vice versa. This means you must have multiple sheets on your clipboard so that when someone agrees to sign and you ask “what town do you live in?” you’ll quickly be able to flip to that town’s page. That’s tough to do when you’re wearing gloves. To keep your hands warm, I recommend hand warmers such as “Hothands” brand. These look like over-sized sugar packets and come predictably two per package (one for each hand). While in their plastic packaging they are inert but once open and shaken, they begin generating heat that lasts for several hours. Normally, you place a handwarmer in the palm of your hand within your gloves. When collecting signatures, I forsake gloves, leave the activated hand warmers within my jacket pockets, and thrust my hands in there while awaiting a willing voter (the clipboard with the nomination papers gets tucked under your arm). When you keep your pen in your hand within your heated pocket, it has the added benefit of keeping the ink from freezing. There are few things worse than handing a willing signer a pen that’s malfunctioning because of the cold. Speaking of pens, I prefer extra fine point markers such as the Uniball Eco. Ball point pens are no good in the cold and Sharpies, even fine point ones, bleed through to the other side of the page which also contains signatures.

That covers the mechanics. As for getting people to sign, the easiest way is to ask people you know. Most will sign without hesitation. But when you need a lot of signatures in a short period of time you have to plunge into public spaces and ask. Between nasty weather, hurried lives, and embedded conservatism, the success ratio of signatures to requests is this region is pretty low. Most people decline politely but some can’t refrain from being nasty. But positive responses come often enough to fully justify the effort.

If this sounds like something you’d like to experience for yourself, we’ll be out all weekend collecting signatures for Ed Markey. Just send me an email at DickHoweJr[at] and I’ll get back to you with more information. If you prefer experiencing this vicariously, check back early next week for a follow-up report on this weekend’s experience. And if you cross paths with a clipboard carrying volunteer who asks you to sign, consider doing so, whoever the candidate may be. The person asking will be exceedingly grateful.