For write-in candidates, election comes down to name recognition

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For write-in candidates, election comes down to name recognition

By KATE CERVE kcerve@beaufortgazette.com 843-706-8177
Published Monday, October 11, 2010   |  1092 Words  |  news

October is a busy month for political candidates as they try to persuade voters to check the box next to their names when the polls open in November.
For a write-in candidate, this month poses an extra challenge.
It's not enough to tell voters where she stands on the issues; she has to teach them how to spell her name, too, because voting for her won't be as easy as simply checking a box.
"There is an extra education process," said Rita Hart, who decided to try for a seat on the Beaufort County Board of Education as a write-in after no one qualified to appear on the ballot to represent Hilton Head Island's District 2.
Julie Bell, the lone filer for the seat being vacated by Bob Arundell, didn't collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot and now also hopes to win as a write-in candidate.
Like Hart, she has spent time this month urging voters not to skip the race on their ballots and take a few seconds to write her name.
"It's pretty easy to do, but you can't miss that step," she said. "The biggest issue would be that it's overlooked."
Beaufort County elections officials can't remember the last time voters faced an election in which no candidate's name appeared on the ballot for an open seat. Although write-in elections are unusual locally, they do occur in other places in the state, typically in elections for boards that are difficult to fill.
For the District 2 seat this year, a space will be available to write in any name, and the candidate who receives the most votes -- a plurality -- wins.
Having your name on the ballot certainly is an advantage, said Dennis Lambries, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina. He said the election of Alvin Greene as the state's Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate proves that.
"If anything, the Democratic Party showed if your name is on the ballot, you can win," he said.
But because no candidate has that advantage in the District 2 school board race, he said the playing field is level.
"Write-in candidates who want to be viable need to make sure they get a hold of their supporters and tell them exactly how to fill out the ballot," Lambries said. "After that, it's like any other election. It's about turnout. It's getting your people to show up at the polls and vote for you."
Lambries said it's likely fewer votes will be cast in this race than in others on the ballot Nov. 2. Some voters probably will leave the write-in space blank and move on, he said.
Scott Marshall, executive director of the Beaufort County Board of Voter Registration and Elections, expects a little more work than usual to tally the write-in votes because of slight differences in spelling. For example, some voters might use a middle initial while others won't.
He said names don't have be spelled exactly right, but variations must be close enough that a reasonable person can determine what the voter meant. The Board of Elections will make those decisions when it certifies the results Nov. 5, Marshall said.
The best way to cast a write-in vote is to use the first name followed by the last name, without an initial, he said.
JULIE BELL
Bell, 48, has lived in Beaufort County for 38 years and now lives in Hilton Head's Point Comfort neighborhood. She and her four children attended Beaufort County schools. She has a son and a daughter at Hilton Head Island High School, and her two older children graduated from the school.
Bell has served as a Parent-Teacher Association officer and School Improvement Council member, and has worked on two school bond referendums. She is Beaufort County's membership director for Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina.
Bell said she wants to see more parental involvement in schools, particularly on PTAs and school improvement councils.
One of her priorities would be improving the high school graduation rate. She thinks more parental involvement would help.
"If we can engage parents, that would help their children become more involved," she said.
Too many parents who were active volunteers when their children were in elementary school stop as their children get older, she said. "It's just as critical to be involved in their lives when they're 16 as when they are 6."
Bell said it is important for the school board to have representation from parents whose children are currently in county schools. Now, most board members are retirees.
"Parents are not so far removed as some of the retirees may be," she said. "When you actually see the impact in the classroom, when you're there, it's different."
RITA HART
Hart, 50, moved to Hilton Head six years ago when her husband accepted a position at Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort. They have two children, one at Hilton Head High and another who already has graduated from the school.
She lives on the north end of the island, within walking distance of the Hilton Head schools complex.
Before interrupting her career to raise her children, Hart was director of human resources for United Southern Bank.
She served on a school advisory council for her children's elementary school in Minneola, Fla., before moving to Beaufort County.
Hart said she has always been interested in running for school board but wanted to wait until her children graduated from high school. But with one son now in college and another busy with extracurricular activities, she says she has the time to serve.
Hart also thinks it is important for parents of students to be represented on the board.
"They have perspective," she said. "They have hands-on experience in what's going on in the schools right now."
Hart said she is concerned about overcrowding in local schools because classrooms that are too full make it difficult for children to learn. She wants to make sure enough sections of high school courses are offered so students can take the classes they need for admission to the college of their choice.
"I want to make sure every child receives a quality education," Hart said. "If schools are overcrowded, a child might not be able to get into a class they need."
Hart also wants to help the district ensure as many children as possible graduate from high school.