“She Pretty Much Took Care of Everything”: Dillwyn, VA Clerk’s Retirement Leads to All-Write-In Election

[Image via dailyprogress]

Election officials often who feel like no one notices their work may appreciate a recent story out of Dillwyn, VA, where the town clerk’s retirement meant that none of the candidates for mayor or town council filed for re-election, resulting in an all write-in vote. The Daily Progress has more:

The entire Dillwyn Town Council is running for re-election, but the Buckingham County town’s 240-plus registered voters won’t find the candidates’ names on the Nov. 7 ballot.

They’re all running write-in campaigns.

“Our town clerk retired earlier this year and she pretty much took care of everything for us and kept us up to date,” said Linda V. Paige, who is seeking her third term as mayor of Dillwyn. “It’s one of those things we just missed. We were talking a while back and someone said, ‘Hey, is anyone running for re-election? When do we sign up?’ Then we realized that we had missed it.”

Although the official Dillwyn ballot will appear blank, there are candidates who want the jobs. Besides Paige, Karen Sue Moss, Tora L. Jones, Sharon Baker, Ossie J. Harris III, James E. Tyree and Gilbert W. Reams also are hoping to return to the council.

“Their names won’t be on the ballot because they missed the deadline to register as candidates, so it’s a write-in situation,” said Margaret Thomas, Buckingham County’s registrar. “We’ve made some adjustments to the write-in process to make it a little smoother so it won’t be much of a problem. There are only about 244 registered voters in Dillwyn, so it won’t be that much more difficult.”

Fortunately for Dillwyn, its small size means that an all-write-in ballot is less of a challenge than it would be elsewhere:

In larger counties, the need to count write-in votes by hand could slow down the process and create a bit of a headache for election officials.

But Thomas said the write-in status of Dillwyn candidates won’t be problem when it comes to vote counting on election night.

“The biggest problem is that, to be counted, the oval in front of the line that says ‘write-in candidate’ has to be filled in, just like the oval in front of a name that’s printed on the ballot,” Thomas said. “The obviously fictitious names we don’t bother to count.”

Virginia law prohibits write-in candidates in primary elections, which are specifically for determining party nominees. Law also declares that write-in votes are not counted in presidential elections.

However, Virginians have the right “to enter the full name of a write-in candidate if the candidate of choice is not on the ballot” for state and local elections.

Write-in votes can be problematic if spelling of names is is an issue, but the county board of elections is offering some special rules given the circumstances:

Exact interpretation of the statute is left up to local elections boards. Some require that the names be accurately spelled and include middle initials. In 1993, Sally H. Thomas won election to the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors as an independent write-in candidate. In that election, votes for Thomas required the correct spelling of her name.

But Buckingham’s elections board has made a few concessions for Dillwyn to make it easier, considering the blank ballot that voters will face.

“The elections board has voted to accept different spellings of a person’s name, but we cannot accept just the last name,” Thomas said. “The board has also voted to accept the initials in a name because it’s been determined no one else in the town would have the same initials and last name. Like Linda V. Paige is running for re-election as mayor. If someone writes in L.V. Paige, those initials would be unique to the candidate.”

This is a great story, not just because of the special circumstances surrounding an all write-in ballot, but also because it illustrates the key role that an election official can (and usually does) play in keeping local elections moving – not just for voters, but candidates as well. I’ll definitely be watching Dillwyn this fall … stay tuned!

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