Here are ten key lessons from our campaign. Email us if you’ve got more!

  1. We’ve learned the importance of getting a fast start. One of the main constraints on signature gathering is that all signatures have to be submitted no later than 316 days after the date the initiative application was filed. We filed our initiative on April 8, and in a perfect world we would have started gathering signatures in mid-May (after about 4 weeks for the fiscal impact statement, 1 week for public hearings, and 1 week to print petition packets). Unfortunately, we needed to make some edits to our measure and so we didn’t get to start gathering signatures until the end of June. That delay really hurt us because it kept us from gathering signatures in the good-weather months of April, May, and June. The good news is that it should be possible to start earlier—much earlier—in the future, in part because of changes to the signature-gathering process made during the 2019 legislature session. Signature-gathering still has to end 316 days after the filing date, but the new law makes it possible to file as early as T Feb 18 2020 if you’re aiming for the Nov 2022 ballot.
  2. We’ve learned the importance of one-on-one training for signature-gathering. The most prolific signature-gatherers on our campaign were able to get 60+ signatures per hour by (1) picking good venues for gathering, preferably venues with lots of people standing around or passing by, (2) carrying 4-6 packets and using the time when one person was signing to recruit others to sign, (3) wearing a signboard as an effective form of advertisement that still left their hands free to pass out packets, (4) being pro-active and assertive in asking people to sign, (5) keeping their pitch short and sweet, and (6) not getting sidetracked into conversations or arguments. One-on-one training is incredibly helpful in spreading these techniques. The importance of one-on-one training is also reflected in the next two bullet points.
  3. We’ve learned that gathering on college campuses is both promising and challenging. It’s promising because there are lots of students on campuses, many of them passionate about clean air and climate issues. It’s challenging because students are busy and  not as easy to recruit to signature-gathering as one might think. Our campaign plan for making the 2020 ballot depended on getting a major contribution from campuses in the fall of 2019, and that didn’t materialize. We need to figure out how to do better in the future, especially because college campuses are spread out around the state and therefore are likely to be key to hitting the signature targets we need to hit in 26 of the 29 state Senate districts.
  4. We’ve learned that the “Emissionaries” program is, similarly, both promising and challenging. One promise of the Emissionaries program—where we offered to pay students and others $0.50 or $1 per signature—is that it allows us to get signatures at a price that is modest in both absolute and relative terms. (Professional signature-gathering firms charge more like $5-10 per signature, and at that rate you’re quickly looking at a budget of $1m. In contrast, $0.50 per signature means you can get 100,000 signatures for $50k.) Another promising element of the Emissionaries program is that it could allow young people and others who support the campaign to make $30+ an hour gathering signatures. The challenge with the Emissionaries program, as with college campuses, was getting folks to participate. We ended up with only a small handful of Emissionaries who made a significant contribution to the campaign. Raising the pay rate (from $0.50 to $1 per signature) didn’t seem to accomplish much; as with the college campuses, it seems that the major hurdle was in finding, training, and retaining signature-gatherers.
  5. We’ve learned about the costs involved in a grassroots ballot measure effort. Before we started we were told that we’d need to spend $60,000 just on signature packets and that we should plan on spending over $1 million total just to get on the ballot. In fact we ended up spending only $2,500 on signature packets. (Overall we spent about $15,000 on packets, stickers, other printed materials, our website, Emissionaries, etc… and that got us 1/4 of the way to qualifying for the ballot!) We also learned about the time costs involved in having volunteers running the campaign: tracking packets and reaching out to volunteers ultimately ended up taking about 2 hours a day; in the future, scaling up the campaign by a factor of 2 to 4 will require either dividing up this responsibility or hiring a paid staffer.
  6. We’ve learned what we can expect from the media. We can expect to get a splash of stories when we first file, and perhaps also when we hold public hearings and begin signature gathering. Then there won’t be much until we qualify, except that we can get regular interviews on programs like KRCL RadioACTive (which was our most successful media partner for attracting new volunteers). We can also get regular op-eds and LTEs (letters to the editor) in the Tribune and probably also in the Deseret News. But we should have modest expectations for those pieces: they didn’t bring much in the way of volunteers or donations. Also, we can’t count on getting much in the way of editorial support: the Tribune editorial board, for example, wrote in August that a carbon tax “deserve[s] more attention than [it’s] been getting” but nonetheless failed to give any attention to our campaign. (They were, however, nice enough to meet with members of our campaign; we weren’t even able to get even that far with the Deseret News.)
  7. We’ve learned that we shouldn’t expect much from signature-gathering at coffeeshops or other stores. On the plus side, leaving a packet at a store is a “free” way to get signatures; just go harvest the signatures every 30 days and ask the manager or other regular employee to fill out the “signature collector” page at the end of the packet. On the minus side, we rarely got many signatures this way; we didn’t even get much after an experiment in Logan where a supporter took out an ad in the newspaper listing the stores that had signature packets. All of this is probably related to point #2 above: you have to be pro-active and assertive in asking people to sign; just having a signature packet at the counter is not going to do much. (PS. We also weren’t able to get much in the way of financial or other support from clean-energy firms like solar companies.)
  8. We’ve learned that we shouldn’t assume that we’ll get help from other activist groups. It is of course reasonable that other groups have their own priorities, and helping with a ballot measure campaign may not be one of those priorities. But we’ve learned that many groups are hesitant to do things as simple as endorse a ballot measure campaign and/or mention it to their members, apparently because that they don’t want to endorse or promote a campaign without making it a priority. PS. There’s no point in criticizing anybody by name, but on the positive side we want to give a big Thank You to the helpful folks at Utah Clean Energy who were happy to meet with us and assist us throughout the campaign.
  9. We’ve learned that we can get nearly real-time data from the Lt Gov’s office. This includes weekly totals of validated signature by senate district (example here) as well as a detailed document that breaks down that total by state senate district and by packet number (example here in the original PDF, here as a more useful Excel spreadsheet, and note that we also have instructions on how to convert the PDF to Excel). This is incredibly helpful for figuring out where we stand in each district, for determining if any gatherers are suffering from low validation rates, and (if necessary) for paying signature-gatherers for how many signatures they gather in different districts.
  10. We’ve learned some important technical details. One example concerns the various deadlines in the legal code: we’ve learned that if those deadlines fall on a weekend or holiday then they carry over to the next working day. For example, the law says that initiative packets have to be submitted no later than 30 days after the first signature date, so a signature packet started on July 1 has to be submitted by July 31, but if July 31 is a weekend or holiday then it’s the next working day. A final example is that we’ve learned how to gather signatures on public property. Sidewalks and public parks are always OK, as are the grounds of state universities. (Some of them even let you gather inside the buildings!) State liquor stores require a permit, but the permit is free, and it’s possible to apply for a permit that covers all of the state liquor stores for a period of two months and that is valid for anybody with the campaign. We are still learning about how to gather on the plaza outside of Abravanel Hall, but again it appears to mostly be a matter of applying for the necessary permit. A final  example that we learned only recently and that we’re still confirming (see update below) is that we might be able to focus on Date Of Birth rather than street address for extra-fast signature gathering. (Although the petition packets ask for a street address and list “age or date of birth” as optional, 20A-7-206.3(2)(c) seems to suggest that signatures are valid if there is a matching date of birth even if there is no address. A date of birth is much faster to write than an address, seems to raise fewer privacy concerns from folks who are worried about ending up on mailing lists, and is also likely to be more accurate, especially with younger people who move a lot or who don’t know if they’re registered at their own address or at a parent’s address.) [Update Dec 1: This turns out to be somewhat complicated because of the potential difference between an address that doesn’t match and an address that is blank : some county clerks may accept the signature with a blank address and some may not.]