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How to Lose an Election

by Deuce of Clubs

How proud we all were indeed Yes, it's true. I ran for public office.

But forget about bothering to kiss up, because I lost--& lost B-I-G.

So why would a political outsider waste prime loitering time on so lost a cause as trying to defeat Republicans and Democrats? Because they're the ones who keep taking more and more freedoms from us. And they're the ones in charge. All the time. That being the case, any liberty we want back we're going to have to recover ourselves.

My original purpose, then, was simply to see if it was possible for an outsider to get inside, in order to fight the bastards on their own ground.

That question was answered in the negative as soon as I started gathering signatures, at which time I began thinking, in the words of the estimable Moe Howard, "I dunno; it was my idea, but I don't think much of it." I kept going partly for fun, partly so that for once I'd have a candidate to vote for, but mainly out of a sense of duty, as Oswald Spengler said: "When one has a chance to annoy people, one should do it!" Those words should be engraved upon the soul of all aspiring Quixotes, to whom I dedicate the following guide.

Morgan's the handsome fellow at lower left

Lesson One

You Can't Just Waltz Into the Capitol on Your Lunch Hour and Submit Your Name for the Consideration of the Voting Public

Unfortunately, before you sweep into office on a tsunami of popular support, dismantle the machinery of oppression, and bask in the heartfelt gratitude of your newly-freed fellow citizens, you have to GET ON THE BALLOT.

This is not easy.

You see, intricate and carefully-constructed laws govern ballot access. Seasoned political Insiders refer to these laws as "ballot access laws." Clever, no?

In a nutshell, here's how ballot access laws work: they work for Insiders. Seasoned political Outsiders refer to these Insiders as PartySpooges(TM). PartySpooges can slouch toward pretty much any Bethlehem that strikes their fancy. For Outsiders, however, ballot access laws function more like ballot restriction laws. Can you guess who wrote these laws? (See? Told you they were clever.)

Nevertheless, dear candidate, don't feel bad that you're not a PartySpooge; after all, neither were any of the founders who originally established this formerly-free nation. Instead, feel bad because you'll just about have to crawl across fields of jagged glass just to get your name on the ballot for an election you have no prayer of winning.

Still want to play?

Than you'll have to learn more than any mammal should ever have to know about filing petitions, campaign forms, filing deadlines, and campaign finance laws. Being that you're a human mammal (we assume), you already know more than you need to know about endless lines and brain-dead government employees. No matter--fully-staffed government offices are standing by to teach you again. And again. And still again. You'll have so much fun you'll swear you're renewing your drivers' license.

Your next project is to collect signatures. Lots of 'em. Collect enough & you get your John Hancock on the ballot--it's that simple.

Unfortunately, "simple" can mean thousands and thousands of signatures. And if you're not a PartySpooge--say, if you're trying to run as an Independent candidate--only the signatures of registered Independent voters are valid. How will you find them? Why, the public voter lists, of course. Unfortunately (sorry to keep using that word, but given the subject matter, one is tempted to begin every sentence with it), the public voter lists aren't all that public. Unless you're a PartySpooge, of course, which means you have permanent ballot access and therefore get the voter lists for free (see "ballot access laws"). Real candidates have to pay for the lists--at five cents per name.

Now, five cents per name may not sound like a lot of money at first. Let's do some math. Multiply five cents times the multiple thousands of names of people you'll have to try to contact in order to wind up with the thousands of signatures you'll need for ballot access. That's a lot of nickels, and if you're anything like me--employed, but not exactly gainfully employed--you probably have about as much "spare" change as you have "spare" time.

Therefore, you can either knock on every door in your district with nothing but crossed fingers to guide you, or you can knuckle under to

Lesson Two

You Pretty Much Have to Join a Party

It's like some cruel parody of Benjamin Franklin's "Join or Die" banner, but then, so is Social Security, and you have to "join" that, too, don't you? ("At least until I take over the government!" you're thinking...aren't you? Just keep reading, bright eyes, keep reading.)

Your choices at this point are basically three:

  1. Join the PartySpooges.
    (Great. Why not just sell your soul directly to SATAN and cut out the middlemen?)
  2. Become a billionaire and start your own damn party.
    (Nice try. You'll have better luck--and a lot more fun--trying to sprout a pair of jug ears and adopting a hick accent.)
  3. Seek out one of the fringe parties.

Did I say you had three choices? Obviously, since you're going to need help, #3 is really your only choice. Choose carefully, however--there are political parties besides the Spoogicans & Spoogicrats that, from time to time, gain ballot access. But not many. No sense going Down Among the Misfits if you can fail just as efficiently all by yourself.

You could do worse than call the Libertarians, as I did. Sure, some may say they don't do much good. At least they don't do any harm. And, as an official Libertarian Party candidate, you'll be heavily favored to come in third place. (That's not so bad, provided you're a horse.) Most importantly, if the Libertarian Party has ballot status in your area (determined from the results of the previous election), you can get on the ballot with fewer signatures. Thousands of signatures? Ha! In my case, it was a mere twenty-three.

Twenty-three! How hard could that be?

Lesson Three

Plenty Damned Hard

Remember those lists I told you about? Well, they've got names on them, all right. But Jupiter knows how old the listings are. A large percentage of the phone numbers are either out of service or have been assigned to new customers who aren't likely to be registered Libertarians. (Stupid math!)

Then you've got to deal with the natural suspicion people have for strange people calling on the phone. It's worse as a Libertarian candidate, because among your constituency you'll be confronting a lot of what non-Libertarians would probably term paranoia. (I can say this freely, because I suffer from it myself.) Someone calls you and says he wants to come to your house so you can sign his petition--what would you say?

You're going to need help. It's possible the local Libertarian Party will help you, but then again, they might not. They don't have much in the way of resources. Better to ask your friends (who probably already think you're crazy, anyway, you nutty believer in human freedom, you). I'm using the word ask loosely, if not downright euphemistically; if it takes false promises and threats of harm to person and property, what of it? You're trying to become a politician! If you succeed, people will learn to expect that kind of behavior from you.

Unless you have a surplus of electrolytes or a shortage of brain cells, you won't be keen on wandering aimlessly door-to-door through your prospective district looking for signatories. (Besides, there'll be plenty of time for aimless wandering during your campaign. But more on that later.)

Instead, you rent a cell phone and have accomplices call the names on the voter lists. That way, they can verify the whereabouts of your quarry and direct you to the homes, softball fields, and pawn shops of the Libertarian electorate. You'll be amazed at how well this works--people love to support an innovative, can-do, get-things-done kind of a candidate. "He has it made," you'll have them thinking. You may even find yourself agreeing with them.

That's when you run smack into

Lesson Four

Just When You're Thinking You've Got It Made

The PartySpooges Find New Ways to Frustrate You

It could happen something like this:

You set out to collect signatures; the state becomes involved in a redistricting imbroglio occasioned by (insert your favorite exclamation of mock surprise) the Feds, who, having decided they're unhappy with the way your state runs its own affairs, proceed to step in and "help" (accent on hell). As in nearly all cases of Federal help, a fiasco ensues when the Feds initiate an extended cycle of

  1. rejecting successive state redistricting proposals, and
  2. awarding themselves deadline extensions to consider the next round of proposals.

If you're thinking along with me here, you've already spotted the huge problem this causes the prospective candidate: How are you supposed to gather signatures only from the district you want to represent when the government hasn't figured out the district boundary lines? And don't expect the government to grant any deadline extensions for gathering your signatures, either. A deadline's a deadline (for those of us who aren't in charge of setting deadlines).

No point getting too steamed about it, though. Sure, you could track down the Idiot of Record on the project & threaten the wretch with legal action and/or grievous bodily harm. Having gotten that out of your system, you might feel a tiny bit better as you slink away to continue knocking on doors to get twenty-three signatures from people whose addresses you hope will still be in the same district whenever the Feds finish their gerrymandering.

Having by now come to understand a little bit better how government operates, you collect twenty-five signatures...just in case. Good! But not good enough. A mere three hours before the filing deadline, a public servant kindly informs you that the state has "retabulated" the population of your newly-drawn district, and it has been decided that you are now required to have collected twenty-eight signatures.

(I wish I were joking.)

Only because your heart is brimming with tender feelings and the milk of human kindness do you place your death grip on your steering wheel instead of around the throat of some feckless public servant. A mad two-hour dash miraculously nets seven more signatures. (Under the circumstances, two extra signatures can't hurt.)

With just five minutes to spare, you beat the deadline. Then you beat the public servant. (In your dreams.) (Believe me, after this, you will have dreams like that.)

That, at any rate, is what the bureacrats did to me. What they'll do to you, only they and Lucifer know. Just know this: they will screw you somehow. And even if you manage to get on the ballot, as I did, there's still the next piece of bad news to consider:

Lesson Five

An Active Campaign is a Costly Campaign

You're not a billionaire; I can tell, because if you were, you'd already own politicians, so why would you want to be one yourself? But signs cost money. So do flyers. So does gasoline, for that matter. So how are you going to finance your campaign?

Forget contributions. Even the most desperately crooked special-interest groups and lobbyists will see in an instant what a waste of perfectly good bribe money you'd be. You will therefore have to adopt a minimalist campaign style. Mine consisted mostly of staying home a lot, ignoring correspondence (you'll get tons of letters from people who understand better than you do that begging, threatening, and cajoling are at the heart of the political "process") and screening phone calls with your answering machine. (It's an electronic age; who needs contact with the electorate?) (Come to think of it, who needs contact with much of anyone? Why, again, am I running for office?) If you're fortunate enough to know the borders of your district (lucky you), you can send mailings to your prospective constituents. Or could--if the post office would just deliver mail for free. Is that too much to ask? If only you were an incumbent--you could use the franking privilege to burden the mailboxes of your district with piles of propaganda, all at taxpayer expense. (My grand total election cost was $80, spent almost entirely at Kinko's.)

Still, at least one campaign method is almost free: walking the district. All you need for that is a reliable map of your district.

Oh. Crap.

Do the Feds ever get around to approving a redistricting plan? Yes, finally. But they warn that it's valid only until the next election. In the meantime, your local government seems to be short on tax dollars. (How the hell that could be, with all they steal from us, I couldn't tell you. Unless they're stocking up on those $500 toilet seats, like the GSA or something.) Anyway, apparently there wasn't enough left over in the office kitty to print up district maps for the candidates. The only existing map is a piecemeal jobby someone has tacked up on the wall down at the Elections Office. It consists of poorly-photocopied 8.5 x 11 sections of a wall-sized city map, Scotch-taped together, on which some poor man's Leonardo has lightly sketched in vague approximations of the new districts using a blunt pencil fatter than the one you used in the first grade, making it even harder to divine any actual boundaries.

Having expected disaster (you're dealing with government, after all), you knew the bureaucrats wouldn't provide any maps of the new districts, so you've thought to bring along your own city map to draw your own. But since you can't figure out the lines from their informal little cave painting, you become desperate enough to risk asking nearby government employees for help. Each one you talk to merely shrugs. How exciting—tax dollars in action!

As a result, you don't find out until after the fact that the precinct you've saturated with your inflammatory campaign propaganda is not even in your district any more. So much for grassroots support.

By the time Election Night arrives, you'll have dug yourself out from under mounds of junk mail from every interest group that ever crawled out of a tar pit, fielded annoying phone calls from anyone who thinks there's a shadow of a sliver of a hope of a chance of somehow profiting at public expense, dealt with witless and unprincipled muckrakers (watch out for these--trust me here), and rolled up miles and miles of governmental red tape. Well done! Reward yourself by showing up drunk and uninvited at Election Central for punch and munchies. Don't forget to heave in the punch bowl if you can. Or better yet, spend what's left of your campaign war chest on booze and candy almonds, bolt the doors, and watch the returns trickle in on television. Either way, as you helplessly watch your opponents leave you on the floor among heaps of confetti and your own campaign literature, you'll be learning the final--and central--lesson of the modern American campaign experience:

Lesson Six

Elections Cost Money, Schmucko--They're Not for the Likes of You

The PartySpooges pay plenty for them, and they don't dole them out on the cheap, especially to anyone who intends to spoil the party as soon as they arrive. Like Bogart, they don't object to a parasite, only to a cut-rate one. God forbid someone should buy an election for the bargain price of eighty dollars. Their message to the common citizen is: Leave Politics to the Professionals.


In the end, I wound up with 3,049 votes. Not bad for eighty bucks. Unfortunately, the two top vote-getters received 26,882 and 26,426 votes, and so were awarded seats in the state legislature. Hope someone put tacks on 'em.

All in all, however, I'd have to say that losing in politics is like losing in love; a painful experience, but still not to be missed. Once, at any rate. As Lester "Roadhog" Moran used to say, "It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have lost at all."

[Update 1994--Fresh out of prison, Marion Barry wins re-election as Mayor of Washington D.C. I now see my strategic error. I might've had a chance at winning if I'd smoked crack with prostitutes and run as a Democrat.]
This article originally appeared in X Magazine
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