School Board Election Petition Update

Date: 7/14/2021 5:00pm

Almost Made It! 

The first thing is first. I want to thank every one of our 70+ volunteers who turned out in a big way and spent days, weekends, and evenings away from their families helping to collect signatures in order to bring accountability and transparency to the Lynchburg City School Board selection process. Unfortunately we were not able to get enough signatures to meet the filing threshold in the time limit we were allowed. By law, the signatures have to be submitted to the Lynchburg Circuit Court 111 days before the election. The threshold is “10% of the number of registered voters therein as of January 1 preceding the filing of the petition.” More precisely that number was 5,219. Because we anticipated some signatures being invalidated for a variety of reasons (duplicates, bad addresses/moves, illegible, not an actual voter, etc.) the more general need was 6,000 signatures. For comparison, to run for local city council you only need 125 signatures, to run for president of the United States in Virginia you only need 5,000. So we literally needed more signatures than it would have taken to run for president of the country! 

Our final count was 4,372. Which missed the minimum threshold by 847 signatures, and the buffer target by 1,628. 

This petition drive has highlighted a number of things. 

  1. First, that this is a real need here in Lynchburg. It should not be understated that we undertook the single largest petition effort in the entire history of Lynchburg and were able to collect over 4,000 signatures IN THE MIDDLE OF A PANDEMIC. Even during a time of national emergency, and when most people were shuttering their doors, staying at home, and not attending events; we were able to almost meet the required signature counts. 
  2. Second, this petition drive was widely supported. Out of the qualified voters who we approached a conservative estimate is that 8 out of 10 individuals signed our petition when asked. That percentage may have been even higher. While it isn’t a formal vote when was that last time the community overwhelming supported an effort in the 80% range? 
  3. Third, we have been highly successful in bringing attention to the school board’s actions. We had over 20 news reports (TV, Radio, Newspaper, and Podcasts) over the last 9 months highlighting our petition drive. We also had 6+ letters to the editor discussing this drive, and both cons and pros to an elected school board. 
  4. Fourth, we have learned that a huge number of people call Lynchburg home even if they physically reside in a neighboring county.  The number of people who work, eat, shop, recreate, and vacation in Lynchburg is staggering. We spent almost as much time talking to residents of neighboring counties as we did Lynchburg residents. This is an important indicator that what Lynchburg City does has major ramifications on our neighbors. It also means that even our neighbors have a stake in what we do even if they can sign a petition or vote on a specific issue. All eyes are on Lynchburg. 

We have also learned a significant amount on how to collect petition signatures. 

  1. Do not start a petition in the middle of a pandemic. Our first 6 months of the collection period were significantly hampered my access to volunteers and individuals willing to sign. 70% of our signatures came from the last three months of the collection period. 
  2. While door-to-door collection is still important, it is also the slowest way to get signatures. On average someone going door-to-door can collect about 1 signature every 10 minutes. In higher-density neighborhoods or in areas where you already know your neighbors that can be faster but those are limited opportunities. However, in a public setting (busy park, business parking lot, community center, etc.) that can be reduced down to a signature every 3 – 5 minutes. At events, you can collect signatures every 2 – 3 minutes. 
  3. It’s a marathon, not a race. Let’s face it 6,000 is A LOT of people (over 10% of the city). While it’s easy to say “if 100 volunteers collect 60 signatures each we will reach our goal.” That still translates into needing A LOT of volunteers to each work 8 – 12 hours. For every volunteer that can’t do that time it means either needing more volunteers or current volunteers to do more hours.

What’s next? 

We are NOT GIVING UP. 

One change that happened after we certified the petition in 2020 was that the Department of Elections approved the digital collection of signatures. We tested this out in the final days of collecting signatures and the process works fairly smoothly. A number of people have asked “why didn’t you do this sooner.” The simple answer is that the Department of Elections did not publish this new process until sometime between April 21st and May 31st. We did not find out about it until Mid June. Additionally, we were not sure if we would be allowed to switch to electronic gathering given that our certification at the court was for paper format. We switched at the last minute knowing that if we didn’t do something we were going to miss regardless. 

However, moving forward we will be able to do this online next time. We are getting more guidance right now on this but based on how many people responded online this online process is a game-changer. 

One of the other changes that the Department of Elections (also updated around that same time) made was the removal of the circulator witness process IF the signer provides their last four of their SSN. What this means is that we don’t require circulators to witness every signature and we can leave petitions at designated drop-off locations for people to sign. Rather than having to coordinate with a volunteer collector. 

Placing a short pause on collecting.  

We need to regroup a bit to get more council on these new processes added in 2021. We also have a very important Governors race about to gear up in full swing. So we will be taking a break to focus on those two areas. 

How can you help in the meantime? 

Please use the form below to add your name to the “pre-sign” list so that we can contact you once we have the petition is ready to go. 

We will not contact you until we are ready to go in/near October. Or share your name with any other party/group (no matter how much they ask). 847

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