The candidate couldn't find 50 voters in his own district

Here's an outrageous example of the amateurish U.S. electoral system in action, from the State of Ohio. Don't expect the Bush haters to jump up and down, because this one involves a grotesque performance by a Democrat candidate's campaign. In fairness, I gather this sort of thing happens to Libertarian and Republican candidates too.

The story so far: Ohio State Senator Charlie Wilson (not quite the same as a local independent running for office the first time) sent people out to get signatures for his nomination to run for the 6th congressional district of Ohio.

I don't know if he paid people to do this (they do that in the U.S.A., which must seem very weird to any British political activist). If so, he didn't hire the best brains in the business because in one county, they actually gathered more than 70% of the signatures from the wrong district. For British reader, this is like sending people to Chelsea to sign a petition to be elected to Fulham. In fact, State Senator Wilson only needed 50 valid signatures in the Columbiana County, and of the 96 he submitted only 46 were valid. In Scioto County (which I happen to know is pronounced "Siyoda")only 7 out of 24 signatures were valid.

I'm sure it has happened in the U.K. to one of the major political parties, but not without either deliberate fraud (the election agent for a candidate forged the signatures, a practice I've come across a couple of times), or an unusual circumstance like someone died.

Here's a free tip on how to avoid this problem. 1) Buy a copy of the electoral register, costs about $20. 2) Find out from the election office how many signatures needed and from which districts (sometimes the rules insist that you need a few from each of the different areas in the district you're running for election in). Also get three copies of the nomination paper. 3) Gather some friends and supporters and spend a weekend going through the list to identify everyone known in the district, obviously including paid-up members. 4) Call on each of them door-to-door. Turn up with a list of eligible voters at the address and ask everyone there to sign up, there's no good reason why if there's a household with a couple, with a grown up kid or two if you can't get three signed up then. 5) Hand in the three completed nomination forms at the same time, getting a responsible person at the election authority's office to sign a receipt for them (prepare your own, in case they're not ready). If they refuse to give you a receipt, ask if you can be photographed handing the papers in (bet they'll initial your receipt then!). End of story!

Only hire teams of canvassers if they'll sign up for a penalty clause for failing to deliver (I'd say a liability of a couple of million dollars would be fair, and a good incentive for them to do the job right, heck I'd do it now if I was in the U.S.).

I have twice stood as an independent in local elections in the U.K. with no support and managed to get signatures by taking a map, a copy of the voters' register, several pens and the nomination paper. I find that as long as I explain that the voter is merely agreeing that I should be allowed to stand, as opposed to agreeing that they will vote for me, most people are happy to sign up for a non-loon.

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