Darnell Goldson returned to New Haven Monday afternoon with petitions to run for State Senate—three days, endless phone calls, and two Hartford round trips later.
Goldson (pictured) is one of three candidates (so far) intending to run for the open 10th District state Senate seat that opened this month when its longtime occupant, Toni Harp, resigned in order to begin serving as New Haven’s new mayor. A special election for the seat is scheduled for Feb. 25. The district covers about half of New Haven (including the west side of town) as well as a sliver of West Haven.
Democrats will gather later this week to endorse a candidate for the seat. Goldson and at least one other candidate, state Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, said they intend to petition to secure an independent slot on the ballot in case they don’t get the party endorsement. (The third candidate, state Rep. Juan Candelaria, said he’s not sure if he’ll do the same.)
It takes only 272 signatures of registered voters (1 percent of those who cast ballots in the last election for the seat) to qualify for the ballot. But first candidates need to get those petitions.
That’s actually the hard part, according to Goldson. He detailed his efforts to pick up the petitions as a cautionary tale—and offered suggestions for how the state can improve the system.
A spokesman for the secretary of the state’s office, meanwhile, discounted Goldson’s complaint, saying the current process is clear and easy to access.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a formal writ Friday that set the date of the special state Senate election for Feb. 25. Candidates would have only a week to collect their signatures to qualify for the ballot.
At that point, Goldson wanted to get petitions so he could get started collecting signatures. He called the secretary of the state’s office to begin that process by obtaining a state “consent” form to take out petitions.
A secretary at that office told Goldson he needed to speak with an employee named Pearl Williams to get that form. Williams is the office’s point person for the public on election documents. Goldson had previously spoken to Williams: Two weeks before, he had called to try to pick up petitions then. Williams had spoken with him, he said; she said she can’t give out forms until the governor issues a writ. She told Goldson she would be able to give him the form right away once Malloy issued the writ.
But on Friday, Williams wasn’t available to speak. Goldson left a message, didn’t hear back. He called again; still no luck.
Monday morning Goldson tried again. Again he got voice mail. He was told Pearl Williams wouldn’t return until the afternoon.
“Listen, I need to be able to talk to somebody and get the petitions,” he recalled telling the secretary. She told him he could come up to Hartford to get the form from her.
So Goldson drove to Hartford Monday. Pearl Williams was present at the office. She told him that he hadn’t needed to drive up—he could have gotten the form off the internet. An application form for petitions. Not the petitions themselves.
Now that he had the application form, Goldson had to bring it to New Haven to have an official in the city/town clerk’s office sign it. He drove to New Haven, got the signature, then turned back around back up to Hartford. He went to the secretary of the state’s office, submitted the form, got his petitions.
He was happy to get to work, but disappointed it had taken so long. “We already lost Friday, Saturday, Sunday and all of Monday,” he said Monday afternoon.
He suggested that the office:
• Stay open on weekends if there’s a short time window in which to pick up forms.
• Have phone-answerers let callers know they can go right on the Internet to get the original form.
• Otherwise have Pearl Williams’ voicemail let callers know that.
Harris: It’s Simple
Secretary of the State spokesman Av Harris defended the process Monday afternoon.
He said Goldson could have easily gotten the information—and the consent form—right off the office’s web page. The homepage (here) has a series of links on the left-hand column, including one called “campaign information.” It leads to this page. There, one can click on a “How do I get on the ballot?” page.
The choices on that page include an option for learning “how to petition your way on the ballot.”
The choices on that page include links to an application page as well as an instruction page for the special election.
Harris called those pages straightforward. He said Goldson could have figured out what to do from them.
Read the form here to judge for yourself, and register you verdict on the “True Vote” ballot on this page.
Harris was asked if Pearl Williams can add specific advice—like printing out the form from the web—on her voicemail message. “That’s not the only reason people call the elections division,” he responded.
“This information is on the web,” Harris said. “He could have called back again. There are other people he could have talked to. The petitioning process, it’s pretty straightforward.”
Upon hearing about Harris’s response, Goldson agreed to walk through the process with the Independent. He was guided to the link with instructions. He read over them. To be honest, he said, there’s no way, if he had found his way to those instructions, he would have come away with the simple information he eventually got from speaking with Pearl Williams: That there was a form he needed to fill out, bring to the city clerk, then submit to Hartford.
“I admit when I’m an idiot. If they had said ‘Go to the website,’ I would have gone to the website. And I would have still had to call them back and say, ‘What does this mean?” said Goldson, who for years deciphered legislative jargon as a government aide and alderman. Those documents were easier to figure out than this one, he said.
“The instructions don’t tell you how to do the application.” It’s not clear at all that he should print out the form first, then bring it to the city clerk and then bring it to Hartford, he said.
Anticipating flaming comments from readers, Goldson asked that critics first read the form for themselves to see if it’s clear enough.
Holder-Winfield said Monday night that he had personally visited state offices to have the process explained to him. “My petitions are on the way,” he said.