No Corona-Extension? Massachusetts Republicans Say Signature Deadline Favors Entrenched Democrats

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Massachusetts residents are supposed to stay at home, but its political candidates will not get an extension on their deadlines to collect signatures to get on the ballot.

Republicans say the upshot is that upstart candidates from the GOP will have a much harder time getting their names on the ballot to go against entrenched Democratic politicians.

The Massachusetts Legislature this week decided against extending the deadlines for state and federal candidates to submit the required amount of signatures from registered voters to run for office in 2020.

For U.S. Senate and U.S. House candidates, that means they must turn in 10,000 and 2,000 valid signatures, respectively, by May 5 – 40 days from today. State Senate and state representative candidates must turn in 300 and 150 valid signatures respectively by April 28 – 33 days from today.

Usually these numbers are not so daunting, particularly if a candidate has campaign cash to hire professionals to collect the signatures.

But in the age of coronavirus, signatures are a lot harder to come by.

Governor Charlie Baker, for instance, issued a stay-at-home advisory on Monday, March 24 that is in effect until Tuesday, April 7.  And government officials are advising everyone to stay at least 6 feet from everybody else to reduce chances of spreading the virus.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo (Winthrop) said he does not think getting signatures will be a problem.

“I can tell you from my own perspective, I’m doing a lot of it — Well, just but most of it by mail,” DeLeo told reporters Monday. “So there are ways of making sure that you get your 150 signatures.”

Republicans disagree.

Jim Lyons, chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said getting signatures by mail may work for the longtime Speaker of the Massachusetts House but not for every candidate.

“The signature-gathering process involves thousands of social interactions between candidates and voters, yet Democratic leadership clearly ignored this during the bill-making process,” Lyons said in a written statement Wednesday, March 25. “Grassroots candidates who lack Speaker DeLeo’s unlimited deep pockets will be unable to get on the ballot, and perhaps that’s exactly why Democrat power-brokers ignored this in their bill.

Both Republican U.S. Senate candidates, Shiva Ayyadurai and Kevin O’Connor, say they disagree with the decision.

Ayyadurai, who ran as an independent in 2018, told New Boston Post in a telephone interview he is not surprised by the decision. He said Democrats oftentimes pay for signatures, whether it’s spending lavishly on a mail campaign or paying petitioners to collect signatures.

However, as a staunchly pro-Trump candidate with name recognition from his previous campaign, Ayyadurai said he should be able to overcome the challenge.

“Frankly, we’ve been playing it the good old American way,” he said, referring to his team of volunteers. “We just assume that we’re going to have to bust our butts to get signatures. We’ve called Galvin’s office multiple times. You would think they would do some accommodations. It seems fair, but we don’t expect fairness from the establishment in this state.”

“I can’t thank my volunteers enough,” he added. “They’re Republicans, independents and even former Democrats who are now unenrolled, and they’ve been out there in the rain and snow helping collect signatures. I’m deeply moved and honored by them, particularly the working families that’ve come out to support the campaign.”

New Boston Post found one job listing of a Democratic Party candidate offering compensation to collect signatures. Perennial state representative candidate Robert Underwood of East Springfield has a job listing on Indeed offering $4 per valid signature to help him get on the ballot.

Gus Bickford, the chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, says it’s a common practice.

“Candidates have different strategies when it comes to running their campaigns,” Bickford said in an email message to New Boston Post. “Some are all volunteer-driven, some have paid staff, some have paid interns, and there are other models as well. A number of Republican and Democratic campaigns have chosen to hire canvassers to collect signatures.”

O’Connor, a lawyer from Dover, whose 86-year-old father has coronavirus, says the May 5 deadline is not reasonable given the public health emergency.

“We want the Legislature to bring the law into alignment with the social distancing requirement,” O’Connor said a written statement.

Currently, Democrats have supermajorities in both chambers of the Massachusetts General Court and hold all 11 of the state’s Congressional seats: two in the U.S. Senate and nine in the U.S. House.