Mailbag: This is what it’s like to be a write-in candidate

By: - September 24, 2020 12:30 am

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Early voting for the general public in Ohio begins in just 12 days, otherwise known as just over one “Scaramucci” of time. And now, the Mailbag: 

Got a question about Ohio politics? Send them to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Have you done any coverage over how write-in candidates work? (Specifically in the upcoming election.) There have been some that have popped up to challenge for some Ohio House seats and it’d be interesting to hear how that works/what it means to be a “write-in.”

– @TSquare87 on Twitter.

Answer: It’s no walk in the park to be a write-in candidate. There’s a process to running as one, just like with any other candidate on the ballot.

To help understand what it’s like, I reached out to two Ohioans with personal experience running as a write-in candidate in 2020. Sam Grady won the Democratic nomination to the Ohio House of Representatives’ 2nd District as a write-in candidate this past spring. Jay Conrad is currently running as a write-in candidate for the Ohio House’s 72nd District.

We’ve all read the stories about voters casting write-in ballots for fictional characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Last year in Columbus, nearly 200 voters picked idiosyncratic Twitter personality and occasional Ohio Capital Journal retweeter Senator Meow to be mayor.  

Sometimes people wonder: If there was an elaborate prank where everyone voted for Mickey Mouse, would that make Mickey the winner?

In short, no. 

Here in Ohio, write-in candidates have to file with the boards of election in order to be eligible to receive votes. Unless there’s a person actually named Mickey Mouse, or unless Mickey becomes anthropomorphized and files before the deadline, the character could receive a million votes and still not win. 

Just a few months ago, State Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, was well on his way to a 3rd term in the Ohio General Assembly. No Democrat filed to run against him, meaning he was set to be unopposed on the General Election ballot.

Jay Conrad is a write-in candidate for the Ohio House of Representatives. Photo courtesy Twitter.

That changed on July 21, when Householder (then serving as Speaker of the House) was arrested as part of a federal bribery investigation. 

A day later, Conrad announced plans to challenge Householder for the seat as a write-in candidate. Three others Kaitlyn Clark, Robert Leist and Marci McCauley — have filed as write-ins as well for the 72nd District, which encompasses a few counties east of Columbus.

Conrad, a Republican from New Lexington, admits campaigning as a late entry to the race is an uphill battle. 

“It’s a difficult position to be in,” he said. “The way I kind of explain it to voters is, I tell them I’m a write-in candidate. I’m not going to be on the ballot. But I am going to be another option.”

Part of that challenge is educating voters what to do on Election Day. In this example, Householder will remain the only name listed on the 72nd District ballot. The ballot will also include a blank space under Householder’s name. Voters wanting to cast a write-in pick have to mark in the bubble (or press the box, on a digital screen) next to the blank space, then write the name of the candidate they are voting for.

“If voters can be educated,” Conrad said, “then I have a real shot.”

Grady is running in the 2nd District, which encompasses Richland County in north-central Ohio. When no Democrat filed to appear on the primary ballot, Grady filed as a write-in seeking to win the party’s nomination. 

At first, it was only him that had filed — with the extent of his campaigning being that he told friends and family to remember to write his name in. Before long, another candidate had filed as a write-in as well.

Sam Grady won the Democratic primary in the 2nd House District as a write-in candidate. Photo courtesy Twitter.

“I got pretty serious about making sure I would have the most write-in votes,” Grady said, noting he began reaching out to local progressives seeking their support.

In the end, Grady defeated his opponent with a total of 125 votes to 76. That write-in victory means he secured the Democratic nomination and will appear on the General Election ballot in conventional fashion. (His candidacy has proved somewhat controversial; he is campaigning this fall without the support of the county’s Democratic Party.)

As far as simplicity goes, Jay Conrad and Sam Grady are two fairly easy names for voters to remember and spell on the ballot. Would someone like Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz or Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn have a tougher time winning?

It doesn’t hurt to have an easier name, but those two would probably be fine. Exact spelling is not a requirement. So long as the voter is relatively close and it’s clear who they are voting for, the ballot gets counted. 

In sum, is it difficult to win as a write-in candidate? Definitely, but it isn’t impossible.

Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, actually won reelection as a write-in candidate to the U.S. Senate after losing her party primary. Here in Ohio, Democrat Charlie Wilson won a Congressional seat as a write-in candidate in 2006. 

I’ve been digging around for details about how the Secretary of State is going to do “curbside” voting … What happens when you’ve got 200 cars lined up?

– @LeesaBrown on Twitter.

Answer: Elections officials have been briefed on how curbside voting should go. Hopefully everything goes smoothly.

Back in March, when we thought Ohio would still conduct its primary election as planned, Secretary of State Frank LaRose sought to provide voters a safe way to cast a ballot with the pandemic in its early stages. One such way was requiring polling locations to offer curbside voting for those not wanting to go inside. 

As you know, Election Day was postponed and the primary wound up being conducted entirely by mail. 

LaRose has issued a similar directive for the General Election. All polling places on Nov. 3 will allow Ohioans to utilize curbside voting. It is meant for “vulnerable” populations and those physically unable to enter a polling location. 

The directive suggests that boards of elections have bipartisan teams of volunteers monitor the area outside each polling place to make sure curbside voters are being attended to. In the absence of such outside volunteers, LaRose suggested there be signage available to indicate how voters can contact someone inside for assistance. 

What happens when there’s a long line of cars to vote? Well, the same as when there’s a line of voters on foot. 

If would-be curbside voters want to avoid any such wait, they have the opportunity to vote early by mail (or ballot drop box).

Got a question about Ohio politics? Send them to [email protected] or tweet them to @tylerjoelb.

Reading material:

Here are some other important and interesting Ohio Capital Journal articles you may have missed: 

Pandemic historian to DeWine, leaders: ‘Just tell the truth’ – Reporter Jake Zuckerman interviewed John Barry, author of “The Great Influenza.” Taking lessons from the 1918 pandemic, Barry described how American leaders should guide the country through this year’s pandemic. 

Chief Justice: Virtual courtrooms, broken barriers the future of justice It’s been an unusual year for Ohio courts, and Susan Tebben writes that Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor has ideas for the future.

Control over the courts is about raw political power, nothing more – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is taking heat for his support for filling an open U.S. Supreme Court seat, in contradiction to his position from four years ago. OCJ Editor David DeWitt writes about what led to Portman’s move.

During coronavirus, food insecurity, poverty spiking — and it’s getting worse – Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans are impacted by food insecurity amid the ongoing pandemic, reporter Marty Schladen writes.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.