Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Strayhorn: "We have blown the barn doors off this petition drive."

Strayhorn turns in 223,000 voter signatures early


Associated Press
Copyright 2006

Independent candidate for governor Carole Keeton Strayhorn turned in 223,000 voter signatures to the Secretary of State's Office on Tuesday, far more than she'll need to make the November ballot.

"I told you, Texas," Strayhorn said while standing in front of 101 boxes stuffed with signatures. "We have blown the barn doors off this petition drive."

Strayhorn had to collect 45,540 signatures from registered voters by Thursday to make the ballot as an independent. The signatures still must be verified by Secretary of State Roger Williams.

"What this message says is the people want change," Strayhorn said while flanked by three of her five granddaughters. "I have broad-based support, and I have the resources."

Musician and author Kinky Friedman, the other major independent in the race, planned to wait until Thursday's deadline, his spokeswoman said.

"We congratulate her," said Friedman spokeswoman Laura Stromberg, who declined to say how many signatures their campaign has collected.

Both are hoping to run against Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic candidate Chris Bell in November.

The signatures must be from registered voters who did not cast ballots in the Republican or Democratic primaries or runoffs this spring. Voters cannot sign a petition for more than one of the independent gubernatorial candidates. Strayhorn's campaign gathered some of its signatures using volunteers, but it also paid workers to get them.

Perry campaign spokesman Robert Black said Strayhorn's numbers were low and said far more eligible voters chose not to sign.

"After turning her back on both political parties and her own principles, Texans just aren't buying her act anymore," Black said. "It will be interesting to see how many invalid signatures Carole Strayhorn has turned in just to keep up with Kinky Friedman."

By turning in her signatures a little early, Strayhorn doesn't gain any advantage over Friedman, but it does get the verification process moving, said Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office.

"The sooner they turn them in, the sooner we can begin working on them," Haywood said.

Initially, the agency said it could take up to two months to determine whether the candidates' petition signatures were valid. But because of outside help the agency is hiring and an internal system it has set up, it may only take five to six weeks to verify the names, Haywood said.

The outside vendor will enter the petition information into a computer database. Then officials from the state agency will run checks to validate the signatures.

Strayhorn asked in a federal lawsuit that state election officials use statistical sampling to verify the signatures, in which only a portion of the total would have to be examined. Her lawyer argued that would save time.

Williams has said each signature will be verified individually. The lawsuit is pending.

Strayhorn said her campaign's in-house research has verified more signatures than she'll need.

"All they'll have to do is look at the first 45,000 petitions," she said.

AP Political Writer Kelley Shannon contributed to this report.

© 2006 The Associated Press: www.ap.org