Write-in candidates can win elections. Don't hesitate to vote for them, if that is where your convictions lie. They are as legitimate as the candidates who are on the ballot.
When you get into the voting "booth" you will find yourself looking at a gridded sheet of paper not particularly filled with names and parties. Down at the bottom of the sheet there is a line designated for write-in votes. You are provided with a pencil at the boot to darken in the circles next to the candidates names. Simply use the pencil to write-in your candidate's name.
About 15 years ago in the village of Trumansburg the present mayor, Marty Petrovic, was a village trustee running for re-election. Something Petrovic said or did set off village resident Carl Potter, and Potter and a small flash mob of volunteers got out the vote and Petrovic lost the election. Potter got done whatever he wanted to get done and got off the board, and of course Petrovic is still there.
In Candor the present supervisor Bob Riggs was a write-in candidate. His predecessor became unpopular and the original opposing candidate pulled out of the race at the last minute. Candorites turned to Riggs, who shrugged and said, "Sure." Riggs is still supervisor.
Write-in candidates can win local elections in part because so few voters bother to vote in them. Nate Shinagawa, the two-term incumbent county legislator for District 4, received 183 votes when he was last reelected in 2013. He was running unopposed.
Write-in candidate Rich John is now running for legislator in District 4 on East Hill. He is running against Cornell sophomore (and Ithaca native) Elie Kirschner. If the same number of people vote, then either candidate only needs 92 votes to win.
Write-in candidate Phoebe Brown may have confused the issue a little when she announced that she was not really trying to be the mayor so much as running in order to make sure some issues got talked about. In this case, if Brown gets a significant number of votes (the mayor is otherwise unopposed), then it will certainly send a message to him that he may want to give more attention to the issues that Brown is raising, among them a lack of affordable housing.
In the Fourth Ward, which broadly overlaps District 4 (yeah, it is confusing), incumbent Alderman Graham Kerslick ran unopposed in the 2013 elections and received his council seat with 63 votes. (Kerslick received a four-year term. Stephen Smith, running for the two-year term in the same ward, also received 63 votes.)
In the adjacent Third Ward Donna Fleming received 320 votes, while running opposed for the four-year seat. Ellen McCollister received 316 votes, also having no opponent. 40 and 36 voters, respectively, left their ballot blank when it came to voting for a Third Ward candidate. These were folks who perhaps wanted to vote in county and state races on the same ballot, but didn't have an opinion about their most local representative, which is too bad.
But the emergence of a write-in candidate in District 4 and three other independent candidates in two city council seats and one legislature seat suggests a slight revival in interest in local politics. I hope it grows into a genuine movement.
The difference? The student population makes up a large portion of the Fourth Ward residents. They don't tend to vote in local elections, although it is their right.