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Roy Christman is a retired political science professor and has a farm in Pennsylvania.

CanvassingRecently I was part of an effort to gather the signatures of 300 Democrats in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. That is the number required to put a candidate for State Representative on the ballot for the May primary. Ordinarily the period for signature gathering is 20 days, but because of delays caused by court challenges, the time was shortened to only eight days.

Keep in mind this was in eastern Pennsylvania in March when the temperature is often below freezing and rain, sleet, and snow squalls are common. That stupid groundhog who predicted six more weeks of winter never gets it right.

I am not new to canvassing. (A "canvas" is a heavy oil cloth, often used to cover and protect items from the elements. A "two-s canvass" involves going door-to-door to solicit votes, money, or religious conversions.) I have canvassed in Alameda, San Jose, Oakland, and Fairfax. I've canvassed to register voters, to support candidates from McGovern to Biden, on behalf of the Green Party, and for and against various California initiatives. It's always an adventure.

Dogs can be a problem. If you see a sign that says "Beware of the dog," rattle the fence. If one is loose, he'll come running. Over and over I hear, "Don't worry, he's never bit anyone." I think, "Until now."

Cats are also a problem. Obviously I would rather face a cat, but the problem with cats is they want to get out and run away. You have to slide the campaign flyer or the clipboard through an inch-wide space so Felix doesn't dash into the street and under an SUV.

Canvassing in pairs is recommended. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses know this. The psychology is odd, but two people on your porch are not as threatening as just one person. Perhaps it's because people expect you to be Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses, which makes you annoying rather than scary.


In addition to ringing the door bell, knock. A large percentage of door bells are broken or no longer wired. Don't be afraid to knock loudly. Think "cop knock." Step back from the door and turn sideways after you ring and knock. That way you aren't crowding the resident's personal space.

I'm fairly sure at some homes I was filmed by security cameras. At a time when burglars are stealing deliveries from people's porches, I understand. I keep smiling and try to look like the harmless old man I am.

I met a number of people who said, "I never sign anything." I find that more annoying than outright refusals. Someday I will reply, "Oh darn. And I was hoping to scam you out of your life's savings."

In my most recent canvassing effort, I carried a list of voters and only visited Democratic households. In two cases the voters on the list had moved and were replaced by Republicans. At both of those homes the Republicans were polite and agreeable. In today's polarized populace, that was unexpected, and I thanked them profusely.

Because of my experiences, I am always patient with canvassers, no matter what their cause. In the summer I offer them water; in winter I invite them in. I know personally just how difficult canvassing can be.

Our team of 26 volunteers managed to gather 526 signatures in the eight days allotted, 226 more than we needed. (You always want to get more than the minimum since your opponent may try to find bogus or invalid entries.) We turned in the petitions at the state capitol in Harrisburg. It was a good feeling.

~ Roy Christman





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