How to circulate a petition in the least annoying way possible?
February 2, 2012 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Need advice about best method of circulating a petition for a ballot initiative in California. There is a ballot initiative in California to replace the death penalty with life in prison. I'm going with a friend to a shopping mall this Sunday to try and get signatures (they still need about 100,000). I've never done anything like this before. I need advice about the best way to go about it.

I absolutely hate it when people approach me about things in public. And if I thought there were any better way to end the death penalty, I would be all for it, but right now this ballot initiative is the best chance. SO I'm joining the ranks of those annoying people who pester you on the street all the time when you just want to be left alone to buy a sweater goddamit!

My goal is to not offend, to communicate quickly and clearly, and to have those who agree sign the petition and those who disagree move on quickly.

Has anyone done this before? Best tips and practices? I've done the research and there is a right in California to circulate petitions on private property that is open to the public. So I'm not worried about legal issues, just about making what is somewhat unpleasant task more efficient and effective.
posted by bananafish to Law & Government (13 answers total)
the least annoying way to do it would be to stand in one spot and verbally announce why you're there. if somebody wants to sign, they can walk one step over and do it. having someone come up to me on the sidewalk is threatening and weird.
posted by facetious at 3:43 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

facetious is right. If you also put up a sign saying, "This is for a ballot initiative" and let them know you don't want money, that is great.

Because typically these people are after money. Even when I told them, "I support your cause and i already gave online" they hassle me for more, probably because they are on commission. The orgs tend to deny it, and yet the guys always seems VERY unhappy when I say I'll research at home and dscide then. Hmmm.

Furthermore, I believe most petitions to be almost worthless. A ballot initiative however is a real way of enacting change, so knowing that's what it was for would make me MUCH likelier to sign.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:48 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stand in one place, don't obstruct the flow of traffic, this will bring security guards. You may have the right to be somewhere but this won't stop some blowhard from telling you you're mistaken and need to move.

Simply repeat a phrase or question to each passerby without actually moving toward them:
"Help end capital punishment in California!" "Would you like to end the death penalty in California?"

For additional bandwidth wear a t-shirt or hang a sign from your backpack that communicates your purpose.

People may approach on their own when they see you canvassing for signatures. It might be helpful to have more than one clipboard and pen handy. Absolutely have a clipboard.

Make sure you know some details about the legislation, or at least know a website you can direct folks to in order to get more information.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 3:49 PM on February 2, 2012

"Hi, I was wondering if you'd be interested in signing a petition for a ballot measure to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment."

If no: "OK, thanks."

If yes, "Great! Are you a registered voter?"
posted by bearwife at 3:50 PM on February 2, 2012

You really should have a sign or banner so that people can think about it while they're walking up. If they dig the idea, they'll sign. No big deal here.

Fwiw, this is something many Californians are going to sign up for this, so don't feel like you have to sell the idea.
posted by snsranch at 3:53 PM on February 2, 2012

I second facetious' comment. In addition, look around and try to make eye contact with people; those not interested will pointedly avoid meeting your eyes, while those who are interested can be encouraged to come over if you encourage them in some way (i.e. smiling). Have more than one copy of the petition so people don't have to wait to sign, lots of pens/clipboards. Be ready to explain where the information will be going and if copies will be made, repeat this information at the top of the signature sheet.

Even the worst pests are less pest-y if they stay in one place. Come in a good mood (the subject is grim, but you're there to start change! Yay!) and keep your statements brief and sincere, but avoid vehement tirades as to why YOU are there. Point out why one signature does matter.
posted by variella at 3:58 PM on February 2, 2012

The signature-collectors outside my local Safeway basically stay in one spot - near the doors, but not right in front of them - and say something like "Sign the petition to end the death penalty!"

Now, we know this isn't exactly correct, but it's a lot shorter than "Sign the petition to get an initiative on the November ballot that would replace the death penalty with life in prison!" You can explain the details when people actually stop to talk to you.

"Help end capital punishment in California!" "Would you like to end the death penalty in California?" These are also good. And yes, have many pens.

Good luck, and thank you!
posted by rtha at 4:09 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Good for you! Nthing the recommendations to stay in one place (bring a TV tray or small card table, if you're allowed to set it up, where you can have a sign saying something like "Ballot Initiative To Replace Death Sentences to Life" or something like that), making eye contact, and having a basic opening sentence, as others have suggested.

Be prepared for someone to challenge you in a hostile or deliberately provocative (you feel sorry for serial killers, you'd feel differently if someone raped and killed your child, blah blah blah). If someone gets batshit toward you, just DO NOT ENGAGE. (Personally, I used to delight in carrying on impromptu street debates with these sorts of people back in my hardcore activist days, but most people's mileage really varies from mine on that score.) Just ignore them and move on to the next person.

That said, do be prepared to discuss at least some of the basic arguments against capital punishment, so that you can talk with people who might be on the fence about the topic, but who want to engage in a good faith conversation about it. I would suggest taking a look at 10 Reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty from Death Penalty Focus; SAFE California facts sheets 1 and 2 (these would be good to have in a stack on your table); press release showing strong bipartisan and independent support in Calfornia for the initiative.

Be confident! Support for capital punishment is declining in the U.S. We have good reasons to be hopeful.
posted by scody at 4:28 PM on February 2, 2012

Be in a highly-trafficked place, but don't block traffic. Be friendly, smile, and say "Have you signed the Life-In-Prison Petition yet" and if they are interested, explain "If you're a registered voter, you can sign this petition to end the death penalty, and replace it with life in prison." Offer your clipboard and pen. If they say no or hurry past, just be quiet or use an innocuous pleasantry. If someone talks to you about it, but doesn't sign "Thank you for your time." Many will have signed, thank them.

There are a lot of signature gatherers. Be low-key, non-threatening and friendly; people get tired of being asked. Thank you for doing this.
posted by theora55 at 4:44 PM on February 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I recommend using the word "petition" in whatever pitch you make. I'll sign pretty much any petition, but if you start by asking me if I oppose the death penalty, I'll keep walking because I expect you to be asking for money.
posted by Xalf at 4:49 PM on February 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

And please please don't use the "gotcha" approach:

"Sir do you like Capital Punishment?"

It's a psychological trick to make people not be able to get away without saying something against their beliefs and it's OBNOXIOUS. My hate for this technique has led me to say horrible things like "No I don''t care about the environment" because I just wanted to go home and eat without being hassled.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:05 PM on February 2, 2012

Go to the mall? Do you have permission? Most malls are private property and you could find yourselves escorted out. Public sidewalks are a better bet.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:35 PM on February 2, 2012

Definitely start with why you're there: "Sign a petition to end capital punishment?" will possibly get me to stop. "Are you a registered voter?" will get me blowing past you at high speed without even a "sorry, no".

And if you had a sign or other visible notice that you weren't being paid to collect signatures, I'd also be more inclined to stop.
posted by Lexica at 6:12 PM on February 4, 2012

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