I'm a civil rights attorney who has been involved in voting rights litigation and activism for over 30 years. This has included litigation in Texas over minority voting rights. It has also included organizing petition drives to force the ballot issue of instituting single-member district elections in Texas school districts and municipalities. This is what I have found. Please join me below the fold to read of tactics in gathering petitions, especially if you are involved in the recall drives against the white-right poster villains in Wisconsin, or if you care to know about single member districts.
At-large elections have been a longstanding means of marginalizing minority candidates in the South. A community with 40% minority population in its own rough contiguous neighborhoods, for example, would have a much greater chance of representation on local boards and councils elected through single member districts, where each part of the community elected its own representatives (like the Congress), than where such officials were elected at-large (where all the voters are able to vote for all of the seats on the council or board). Given polarized voting along racial lines in the South, it is not unusual to find minorities shut out of local elected office where the at-large system of voting is followed. This is exacerbated by the fact that successful at-large election campaigns can be much more expensive, since you have to reach a larger voter pool, and thus outside the reach of almost all but the well-connected -- which in the South is not likely to be a minority. Successful single member district election campaigns, by focusing on a much smaller electorate defined by neighborhoods instead of a whole city, emphasize retail politics at the expense, no pun intended, of bankrolled media campaigns. This removes many of the structural disadvantages encountered by minority candidates, especially non-rich minority candidates, in the South.
Texas law allows the voters of any home-rule city or school district to decide to elect its representatives by single member districts chosen only by the electorate from that district. However, it takes 10% of the electorate to petition for such a change to get it on the ballot. I've helped organize a number of these. So here is where it connects to Wisconsin -- and it's dated April 5th, your upcoming election day.
I've found that the best place to collect signatures is outside polling places during elections. Instead of having to go look for people, they are coming to you -- sometimes in droves. Instead of wondering whether they are eligible to sign the petition, you can rest assured because they're walking to vote. Instead of getting them one or two at a time per household, you're sometimes getting them as fast as you can get people to sign. You can put in a full 12 hour day, and start signing people up as early as 7 in the morning -- even before they get to work. In essence, when done fully, such a project will result in petitions by the cart-full, especially for an issue as well publicized as that of recalling the white-right poster villains.
We organize by polling place, building volunteer teams for each location, by shifts, composed of people from those neighborhoods. We pre-select each team's location to make sure we comply with anti-electioneering laws, and to insure the team can have the best visibility and access to voters. We make sure each team has the proper gear -- tables, chairs, visibility posters, pens, water, food, etc -- and establish runs by still another team to provide the working team with what may come up during the day. We of course have a leadership team that keeps the working teams running, and tends to whatever may come up.
Sometimes the logistics aren't the best at particular polling places, but we try to work our way around it as best we can. Sometimes we have to avoid a location because of logistics, but there is always another polling place where those people can be used. Early voting and vote by mail have cut down the numbers of people who vote on election day. But when you still have people voting by the thousands and tens of thousands, there's a lot of signatures to fill your carts full with.
It's a long, long day of work, and it gets hectic during certain parts of it. One thing for sure, though, we always have a great party at the end of the day with barrels of beer to go with the cart-fulls of petitions.
You guys in Wisconsin have all my respect and admiration. What you are doing is hard work -- simply put. It will be truly inspirational when you pull it off, not to mention the blind fear it will strike in the hearts of republicans.