Signature gathering and canvassing were two aspects of campaign outreach that have borne the brunt of the disruption caused by the pandemic. Last summer, C&E heard from practitioners who were adapting their signature gathering efforts, pausing them or anticipating a future of digital signing.
One of the practitioners worried about how candidates could effectively gather signatures during the pandemic was Jimmy Camp, a Southern California-based consultant. Turns out, Camp didn’t have much to worry about. Now, he’s behind the signature gathering effort that may have gotten a historic recall of a Los Angeles city councilman on the ballot.
For practitioners getting their own signature gathering efforts up and running, Camp has this advice: “You just have to be more cautious and more careful. You have to be sensible, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer, social distancing at a door talking to someone.”
But otherwise, don’t worry about people not being willing to sign. “COVID’s not going away anytime soon, but with more people vaccinated, they’re used to needing to wear a mask … to socially distancing a little bit more. They’ve had to adapt to it.”
It didn’t hurt that Camp was gathering support for a recall campaign centered on two of the most hot-button issues in Southern California: Homelessness and crime. Voters were being asked to sign a petition to support the recall of Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the city’s westside where homeless camps are ubiquitous. The Venice Boardwalk, which has symbolized the emotions on all sides of the debate, is in Bonin’s district.
While gathering the 39,000 signatures wasn’t a heavy lift — the campaign got them just by targeting registered voters — Camp said his volunteers and supporters still had to deal with potential blowups while in the community. “We had tables turned over, we had people trying to grab petitions away that were signed by people,” he said. “It got ugly and violent at times, but we pushed through that.”
Working on an effort that’s focused on such controversial issues required additional volunteer training, he added.
“You need to put your passions aside. We need to look at the end game and the end game is we get enough signatures,” Camp said he told volunteers. “Our rule of thumb is move on. You’re not going to convince them. The fifteen minutes you spent arguing with someone who got aggressive, you could have gotten five signatures.”
California might be famous for its recall elections, but they’re a rare occurrence around Los Angeles’ city hall. The last time a recall effort against a member of the city council qualified for the ballot was in 1984. The last time one was successful was in 1946. The Recall Bonin 2021 campaign needs more than 27,000 of the signatures it turned in to be validated by the city clerk in order to quality for a vote next year.
“Based on our validity rates, I think it’s going to be close, but I think we’ll get there,” Camp said.