In most years, 150 signatures can seem like a laughably low bar for inclusion on a state election ballot. Generally, it means any gadfly with a pen, a clipboard and a few hours to stand outside Market Basket on a Saturday can call themselves a candidate.

In the age of COVID-19, however, gathering those signatures has become an onerous task, one that threatens the health of democracy as well as the health of its citizens.

Euplio “Rick” Marciano, for example, has been having trouble gathering enough signatures to get on the ballot for Beverly state representative this fall. Virus-wary residents have avoided him -- even though he is set up more than six feet away from the table with his nomination papers, and has bought more than 200 pens so signers can take theirs with them after a single use. At one point, a police officer -- erroneously -- shut down his operation.

It’s not just serial candidates like Marciano who are having issues. Last week, Ed Markey -- a sitting U.S. senator -- said he was about 3,000 signatures short of the 10,000 he needed to get on the ballot. Congressman Seth Moulton says he is in much the same boat.

Some candidates have taken to mailing nomination papers to residents in their district, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for return. Others have set up a downloadable form on their website.

But not everyone has the financial resources to spend on postage or software. And it shouldn’t be a required to get on the ballot.

The conundrum led several candidates to to file an emergency petition with the Supreme Judicial Court last week. The court is scheduled to hear the petition Thursday, but it shouldn’t have to come to that. 

State Rep. Patrick Kearney of Scituate has filed emergency legislation that would lower the signature requirement by two thirds, a measure that has the endorsement of the heads of the state Democratic and Republican parties. Gov. Charlie Baker has also signaled his support for easing the ballot requirement. It’s would be a smart move, and would help to ensure robust elections -- hopefully this fall.

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