In the Fall 2012 elections, our district’s State Senatorial contest featured only a single unchallenged Republican candidate, Thomas O’Mara. Given Tompkins County’s progressive bent (our Mayor recently has started lobbying for legalization of marijuana), it seemed to be just downright wrong to be represented by the GOP.
Some friends and I, gathered for coffee and games, were discussing this; three days before the election. Our friend Mallory Roberts was there. I forget who suggested it, but the idea of voting him as a write-in candidate for that seat became a topic of discussion. He had business cards; on the reverse, he wrote something like “Vote me for State Seante, I am not evil.” We left them all over the coffee house and I think he left some at other locations nearby as well.
His campaign, as it were, was underway. (I have a few thoughts on this, if anyone else is interested in running as a write-in candidate, but I’ll save them till the end, at the bottom)
On election night, my friends and I were checking the local election progress. The state senatorial race was being updated, but only listed votes for registered candidates (O’Mara), “Write-ins” and total votes cast. There were actually a substantial number of write-in votes cast — I want to say about 10-15% by the end of the night. We were all very curious about how many Mallory got.
After the election, I realized that I could find this out, with a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request. It was surprisingly easy, Tompkins County actually has a really convenient form for filing these requests. I was able to send my request, and get my response, electronically.
FOIL requests can be submitted for any public records. I was told mine would be filled by the Board of Elections, and would take approximately 3 weeks; I don’t know how long other requests would take. My request was free, but other requests may cost money, particularly if they require many hours of labor.
Below the jump are the details of my request along with the complete results of the write-in candidates for Tompkins County district NY State Senator.
My FOIL Request
Personal Information omitted
Records requested: I would like the list of names of Write-In Candidates for the 2012 General Election, NY State Senate race (Incumbent Thomas Omara ran unopposed). Last I checked in the polls there were over 100 write-in submissions.
I do not need the names of the voters. The write-in candidates can be either in aggregate (“John Smith: 14 votes”) or itemized (“John Smith, John Smith, John Smith …”). Electronic format would be fine (text or PDF), also, sent to the e-mail address used in this form.
The response they sent the next day was:
Dear Mr. Hill:
This letter is to inform you that we have received your request and are processing it for fulfillment. Our office does not have the specific information you need, but we are forwarding your request to the following department(s):
Board of Elections
We expect to respond to your request within approximately 20 business days from the date
of this letter.
Your patience is appreciated.
Today, 19 business days after my first response, I received a PDF that had the data I requested in tabular format.
Here are the names with totals, in alphabetical order:
|TOTAL||% of Total|
|Ernest Logan Bell||1||0.43%|
|Andrew O. Byers||1||0.43%|
|Kellie A. Cox||1||0.43%|
|H. John Cronengold||1||0.43%|
|Gerard K. Dunphy||1||0.43%|
|Pam Mackaysey (I suspect this is the same person as previous)||1||0.43%|
|Elizabeth A. Maze||1||0.43%|
|Jennifer K. Melliot||1||0.43%|
|Alisa S. Mengel||1||0.43%|
|Stephen F. Pond||1||0.43%|
|Terri M. Staff||1||0.43%|
|Neil DeGrasse Tyson||1||0.43%|
|Todd Lee Warren||1||0.43%|
If you’re curious:
This was my first time submitting a FOIL request, and I actually found it to be a really rewarding experience. I highly recommend that others submit a request for some public information that they find useful.
I believe all, or nearly all, states have a Freedom of Information process; in Indiana, it was called “FOIA” (Freedom of Information Act), but perhaps that has changed to FOIL since then. The Sunshine Foundation, an organization advocating more government transparency, and the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) both have some great information about FOIA/FOIL requests — here is the EFF’s FAQ on FOIA. There is a wealth of information on that site.
If your name is listed in the table above, please comment here and let us all know if you knew that you were being written-in, and whether you will consider running again.
So you Want to run as a write-in candidate
My first suggestion would be to start earlier than 3 days before the election. Ideally, if you can formally get on the ballot, that would be best. The NY.gov elections website has the relevant forms you would need to register for a political race. Being officially on the ballot confers you several advantages, most obviously that there will be no question about how to spell your name or whether or not you are running.
If you miss that deadline, however, or are unable to fulfill the requirements in place to register, try and instead focus on getting your name out.
In Tompkins County alone, we had 133 individual names (132, really, since I think “Pam Mackaysey” was meant to be “Pam Mackesey”) submitted as write-in candidates. Many of these were done as protest votes; people who were not realistic candidates because they don’t live in the area or are already in other political office. (among these: Hillary Clinton, Ralph Nader, Maurice Hinchey, Svante Myrick, Bill Nye, Barack Obama, Ron Paul, Chuck Schumer, Steve Forbes, etc.).
When we helped campaign for Ralph Nader in Indiana for the 2008 election, he was forced to run as a write-in candidate in that state. The main challenge with running as a write-in candidate is indicating to prospective voters that (a) you are running and (b) how to spell your name. Spelling counts here (see candidate Mackesey, mentioned earlier). Mallory’s approach of distributing business cards was a good idea, though if we had adequate time, it would have been better to have some custom-made cards specifically for this. Explaining to voters how to do a write-in candidate would be a good thing, as well.
In this particular case, since the incumbent was running unopposed, Mallory was providing people with an alternate candidate — the so-called “lesser of two evils” (though in Mallory’s defense, as his campaign slogan says, he isn’t evil. He’s actually a really nice guy and I think he’d be alright). If the race is not unopposed, it might be wise to include some information about your particular platform, as well.
Write-in voting is a wonderful aspect of our election system, and hey, sometimes write-in candidates can actually win.