Write-in Line on the Ballot

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.

(5) comments

Franklins Ghost

The people choose through voting who is to represent them, not some political party machinery and backroom politics. Any party member or official who does not understand that needs to step down.
This is what happens when one party gains dominance over political offices at any level of government. You get politicians and those tied in with the political machinery thinking that they set the rules and they get to decide who the People should vote for. Then they punish anyone who doesn't conform to their games and their rules. Locally we are seeing that with the Lansing administration and saw it 20 years ago when the Dem political machinery was trying to get one of their own into what had traditionally been a Republican elected position. Then when they finally got their chosen guy into that position they tried to make it an appointed position rather than an elected one. When they couldn't win on that issue they tried to rig future elections so their guy would be a shoo in for re-election. That didn't work their way either so they've been hounding Lansing for a term and a half now.

I also disagree with the Times editor who said Ithaca needs more leftist candidates as voting options. That's all we have anymore. We need more conservative candidates and people who will run gov't operations like a business and understand what the concept of essential operations is versus socialist utopian desires as in what motivates most of our current local politicians.

MattButler Staff
Matt Butler

You think it is bad faith for John to run when he promised not to. The public thinks it is bad faith for the Democratic incumbents and the party committee to time their resignations to "streamline" the democratic process. Which came first?

If the party nominates the candidate and the candidate gets a vote of no confidence then it isn't the party's fault. But when a party nominates a candidate and they win, the party will take the credit. Nice.

I know the last Republican mayor of Ithaca, Bill Shaw. He is a fair-minded and civilized man. I wouldn't mind having him in charge of the city. And I'm a registered Democrat. Always have been. (Which is why I'm so ticked off about all this.)

The Democratic Party of this county is very politely left wing. It is too conservative for the Ithaca Times. The managing editor of the Ithaca Times will be voting for Bernie Sanders in the primary and would be happy to do so were he running on the Democratic Socialist ticket.


Anna Kelles was nominated via petition. If she had not received a certain number of signatures, she could not have gone on--except as a write-in. In NYS, we nominate in a number of ways: petition, caucus, or committee nomination in a special election. What distinguishes her from Rich John is that she never promised not to run on an independent line.

My guess is that Mickey Mouse is a vote of no confidence in a candidate rather than a party. It happens a lot in school board elections, where no party is involved.

I am old enough to have been around for Republican mayors of Ithaca. The current turn of events represents a lot of years of hard work. Sorry you don't like the results. I am also old enough to remember when the IT was a lot less conservative than it is now. Times change.

MattButler Staff
Matt Butler

Whether or not a party gives its blessing to a candidate has nothing to do with the quality of the candidate. Nothing. If the majority of the electorate actually votes for "Mickey Mouse" (or some other imaginary candidate), then that is a vote of no confidence in the party. I doubt our state constitutions make a provision for this eventuality, so I presume a judge would have to render a decision.

Elections exist to make manifest the will of the people. They do not exist to make manifest the selections of political parties. Nobody "vetted or nominated" Anna Kelles. She just managed to do a certain amount of paperwork in a really short period of time. That is the only thing that distinguishes her from Rich John, by your criteria.

I see more and more evidence that the county and some town Democratic Party commitees are out of touch. We need a resurrection of the Green or Social Democratic party or some such alternative, or our local politics risks veering into absurd territory (where some might say it is already).


So write-in candidates are the same as candidates who go through the petition or caucus process and are chosen by members of their party to run? They are the same as candidates who win a primary election? Every year, a few people write in "Mickey Mouse" when they are not interested in choosing a particular candidate. Is Mickey just as legitimate as the people who are on the ballot? If you believe what you say, Bill, why not just let every ballot be a write-in ballot and ensure a win for Mickey? You are quite right that write-ins sometimes win elections, especially when the turnout is low and those write-ins beat the bushes to get out the vote. But I don't think you'd be equating write-in candidates with vetted, nominated or elected candidates if it weren't for your unhappiness with the situation in District 4. To make that equation is to discredit the entire electoral process. I hope you will rethink or at least emend your opinion. Thanks.

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