Senate President Karen Spilka has a BYOP policy for the nomination papers sitting on a table on her porch — bring your own pen.
Spilka, an Ashland Democrat, said she got many of the 300 voter signatures she needs to secure a spot on the September primary ballot before the coronavirus crisis hit Massachusetts.
For the rest, she's in the same position as most elected officials and political hopefuls across the state — trying to find new ways to complete what's usually a close-range, in-person exercise involving contact with multiple people at a time when public health and government officials are strongly urging distance among people living in different households.
"Personally, I am in favor of reducing the number of signatures," Spilka told the News Service. "I do believe this is an access-to-ballot issue."
In Spilka's case, she said, supporters have been leaving nomination papers on their porches and using social media to encourage others to come sign them, while taking health precautions.
"There are some signature pages on the table on my porch, bring your own pen, BYOP, and please sign them," she said. "That's how I've gotten some more."
Other legislators have also put out calls for signatures via social media. Rep. Sheila Harrington had her papers out at the end of her driveway, and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz was collecting addresses to mail forms to voters' homes.
State legislative candidates are due to submit their nomination papers by April 28, and federal candidates by May 5. Projections from Gov. Charlie Baker indicate that a surge of COVID-19 cases will peak sometime before then.
The number of required signatures range from 150 for a state representative to 10,000 for U.S. Senate.
"I do support cutting, reducing the number, especially in the higher numbers," Spilka said. "We don't want people going out there jeopardizing their health to collect signatures. That just doesn't make sense at this point at all."
And yet, demands for the Legislature to address the issue have gone unanswered for weeks.
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin O'Connor has been repeatedly calling for a change to the ballot-access process, especially after his father contracted the virus. O'Connor, Eighth Congressional District candidate Dr. Robbie Goldstein, a Democrat, and Hingham state representative candidate Melissa Bower Smith filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday, seeking relief on the ballot access requirements.
The House and Senate did not address ballot access requirements in a pandemic-related elections bill they passed in March, but at the time both Spilka and House Speaker Robert DeLeo said they were discussing options. That new law allowed cities and towns to postpone their spring elections and expand vote-by-mail options.
"We are talking about not so much maybe extending the deadline, but maybe -- you know, we have to consider not only state level but the federal level as well, the U.S. Senate candidates -- in terms of number of signatures," DeLeo said. "So I think those are the things that ... we're talking about."
Spilka, in this more recent interview, said she's still trying to get a sense of where other senators stand on the issue and "come to some consensus."
"During normal times we feel strongly about access to ballots, and this is not a normal time," Spilka said.
The Massachusetts High School Democrats and Massachusetts Teenage Republicans sent a joint letter to legislative leaders last month urging them to decrease the number of signatures required or extend the deadline to submit signatures. The groups said their members tend to make up a significant part of the volunteer workforce that collect signatures for candidates.
Rep. Patrick Kearney filed a bill (HD 4981) that would cut each office's signature threshold by two-thirds. The Voter Protection Corps, chaired by 2018 lieutenant governor candidate Quentin Palfrey, has voiced support for Kearney's bill and described the signature-gathering challenge as "particularly acute for regional and federal candidates."
While incumbents often have established campaign structures, name recognition and supporter networks that can make signature-gathering easier, the barrier can be higher for challengers and political newcomers who are starting from scratch.
A few current state lawmakers — including Reps. Angelo Scaccia of Boston, Harold Naughton of Clinton and Elizabeth Poirier of North Attleborough — have recently announced they are not running for re-election this fall. Potential candidates for those newly open seats, unless they'd been planning previously to run, will have just a few weeks to gather their 150 signatures in a way that complies with social distancing protocols.