Tuesday, July 23, 2024

A strange and unexpected thing happened when I went to turn in the additional signatures I needed to qualify for the ballot for Cambridge City Council on Monday minutes before the 5 o’clock deadline.

I needed an additional just four signatures to reach the 50 required. I had actually collected an additional 16 and stopped there, confident they would all, or almost all, be readily certified.

On submitting this “second sheet,” I was informed that duplicative information that appears on that sheet, which I had not realized (or remembered) had to be filled out – again – was required, and that none of these signatures would be counted. I was told that this had happened with other candidates, and that a legal opinion had been requested a few years ago in a similar situation and that the advice from the city’s legal department was to reject those signatures.

(There is important additional detail regarding the interpretation of the validity of signatures, but I will skip that for now; suffice it to say there appears to be at least one relevant discrepancy in this interpretation. And does Cambridge get to make its own “rules” unilaterally when it comes to ballot access?)

There were just 10 minutes left before the deadline.

I was advised I could go out and try to get the remaining four signatures needed. Given where I was and the time, this was hardly doable. (I also had an important dentist’s appointment for the first time in more than two years scheduled for 5 p.m.; the next available appointments at our overtaxed Windsor Street Dental Clinic is not until sometime in November; rescheduling would have proven a nightmare.)

Nevertheless, I stepped out – to test the theory – and asked the first person passing by, but he declined.

I don’t blame the employees at the Election Commission office for their interpretation; they’re doing what they believe they are supposed to do.

I admit it. I goofed. (Easy to do in this situation.)

I do, however, wonder why this apparent “glitch” – given it’s evidently having tripped up numerous other potential candidates – has not and should not be corrected to avoid similar unnecessary mishaps in the future.

I also – though I see nothing personal at all here – wonder where this extremely odd and disconcerting feature of the format and requirements of current nominating papers came from.

It seems, frankly, a bit like “literacy tests” for black voters in the South. Was this small, duplicative, paragraph inserted years ago as a kind of tricky way to “trip up” the uninitiated? (It’s not as if voters don’t know exactly what they are being asked to sign, given the exact same information – and even a candidate signature, and the official seal of a notary – in a much larger area at the top of the same sheet, directly above this additional sentence.)

I seek no special treatment here. (Someone suggested I could have just filled out this duplicative sentence myself, before handing in the signatures; I’m sure other candidates have done this over the years. I’m not sure what I would have done had I realized the problem in time, but I simply had no idea I was supposed to do this and don’t remember ever being told to be sure to remember to execute this seemingly hidden detail.) A very careful examination of all the instruction paperwork would probably have alerted me to this caveat but, like most, I tended to over-rely on what I was told at the desk when being given the “candidate package.” There is a sheet taped high up on the protective glass at the service counter that evidently includes this information, but – in all honesty – who is really going to look at that, and stand there and read it all carefully enough, while standing at the counter speaking with election workers.

Unless we want completely unnecessary obstacles to ballot access in our supposed democracy, the format for nominating sheets should be changed and, in the meantime, a different interpretation could probably be authorized to accommodate maximum participation in our next election.

I hope to bring this up at the next meeting of the Election Commission, if at all possible.

I apologize to all my friends and supporters who were kind enough to sign my papers, and to those who just felt they were willing to help someone sufficiently interested to get on the ballot.

If no adjustment is made in this instance – for all candidates who may have suffered from this completely inadvertent and regrettably understandable oversight – then I would ask all who have not yet given up hope for meaningful change in the direction of our city to consider giving me your No. 1 Vote on Nov 7 as a write-in. (If Marjorie Decker could pull this off in 2009, then perhaps I can, too!)

Onward. Thanks!

James Williamson, candidate for Cambridge City Council