Write-in bid: Difficult but can be done
In 1998, former Nevada County Supervisor Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin entered into the battle of county politics for the first time. She made the decision rather late in the game because candidate Nancy Keil withdrew due to illness, and Martin ran as a “certified” write-in candidate.
Martin won in District 4, but said “it was extremely difficult and not a good way to run for office.”
Supervisor Sue Horne also won as a write-in candidate during the 2000 election in District 2. She said she faced difficulties, but believes the write-in option is an important part of the democratic process and not as tough in a county such as this one.
“Nevada County is a close-knit community that is pretty in tune politically, and people do pay attention,” Horne said, explaining why write-in candidates stand a chance.
Horne said she hired a political consultant to advise her on her campaign – especially the “technical” parts. She said part of her success could be attributed to strategically placed signs, walking door-to-door, and the luck of having a simple name.
Horne used the example of her success to urge the Grass Valley City Council on Sept. 19 to allow for an election to happen in Grass Valley. “I think you need to let the process fully play itself out. It is part of our election process and you don’t know what the future holds,” she said.
The candidates who met the filing deadline are Mill Street Clothing Company owner Lisa Swarthout, businessman Dean Williams, and former Mayor Mark Johnson. With only three candidates for the three open seats, some questioned the prudence and cost-effectiveness of hosting an election, but the city council opted to continue the election process.
Martin said the biggest difference between her race and the current situation in Grass Valley is that “when Sue Horne ran and when I ran . . . a significant change after filing had occurred.”
Regardless of whether the Grass Valley scenario mimics the campaigns where Horne and Martin were successful, there are still some tough obstacles to be faced by potential write-in contenders. And not all write-in efforts have been so fortunate as Horne and Martin.
Former Nevada County Supervisor Rene Antonson, after coming in third in the District 4 primary in 2002, ran in the general election as a write-in and lost then as well. He said he decided to be a write-in because “I couldn’t support the person who eventually won” (Robin Sutherland, who derailed Martin’s re-election bid). Antonson also said candidates who win “have to have a big enough army to get (their) message out there.”
Martin said the biggest challenge as a write-in candidate was to educate the voter. She said she had to make the voters familiar with her name and also teach them how to vote for a write-in candidate.
” We talked to the then-elections clerk and explained since there was a serious write-in campaign, their poll workers needed to be trained and the materials needed to reflect how to do a write-in,” she said.
Voters must physically write in a certified candidate’s name and must also darken the oval next to the space available to write in a name. If both are not done, the vote does not count. Names do not need to be spelled exactly and the elections office will consider different spellings based on “voter intent” – or what the voter meant based on a reasonable attempt, said Nevada County Clerk-Recorder Kathleen Smith.
At each polling station during the November election there will be a list of write-in candidates, but voters have to ask for them, said Grass Valley City Clerk Bobbi Poznik-Coover.
There is no cost to file as a write-in, and candidates must meet the only two requirements: be a resident of Grass Valley and be a registered voter. Two of the three incumbents who did not file for re-election – Steve Enos and Dee Mautino – could choose re-enter the race because incumbents are eligible to be write-ins. Councilwoman Linda Stevens does not have that option because she is running for Nevada County District 3 supervisor.
Enos and Mautino both said they currently do not have intentions to be write-in candidates. “But you never know,” Mautino added.
Grass Valley resident and Sierra College student Kristopher Finstad said he is considering being a write-in candidate. The open District 3 supervisor seat initially appealed to Finstad, who said he would like to get more involved in local government, but the costs involved deterred him.
Finstad has been a resident of Nevada County since 1992 when he returned from three years of service in the Army at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He is currently studying business, is an active member of the Wolf Creek Community Alliance, and describes himself as an issues-based decision-maker.
“I want a healthy economy and I want to support growth, but I want to be smart about it,” said Finstad, who currently is a registered Republican, but in the past has been registered with the Democrat, Green, and American Independent parties.
Antonson, offering advice to potential write-in candidates, said, “The only thing I would suggest is they put their heart and soul into it. You have the established elections process against you.”
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