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Run for it

May 30, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Ducking the primary process hoping for a write-in nomination is side-door politics

A familiar pattern is emerging in the ongoing filing period for the primary election. Municipal offices are going begging for candidates.

An experienced observer of this condition knows full well what is going on here. Candidates are bypassing the primary election process with the intent of being nominated for the general election through the write-in process. They can save the filing fee now, be spared the time, the effort and the expense of campaigning for the primary, and hope that they can pre-arrange with enough of their friends and acquaintances to get enough write-in votes Aug. 21 to qualify for a spot on the general election ballot.

It has worked many times in the past. There have been numerous primary election cycles in which municipal seats had no nominees or perhaps just one. But that never seems to translate to empty seats around the town council table come January. Inevitably, a write-in or two will be nominated by about a half dozen voters (that's usually about all it takes), and then triumph in November, sometimes as the only candidate on the ballot.

So this can work, but it's not an especially good thing for the election or the electorate (that's a semi-fancy word for voter).

A candidate who slips onto the general election ballot in this fashion rarely has to explain himself to the voters. She needn't bother informing the public about her positions or her intentions.

The stealth write-in candidate often seems to have things worked out ahead of time, as if he and a handful of friends, and perhaps their spouses, have found a way to game the system so as not to have to actually stand before the electorate to earn the nomination.

It's all perfectly legal, and some good political careers have started just this way. But the best write-in scenarios are those in which the candidate has either been caught completely by surprise by a genuine groundswell of support and comes to the conclusion that she truly has been called to serve; or when the candidate has announced his plan to run as a write-in candidate publicly and well ahead of time, trying to get enough votes to win head to head against another candidate in full view of the voters.

Sidling in through the side door doesn't have the same authenticity to it. It seems to sidestep the purpose of a primary election campaign, which is to present all the voters with options for the general election, spark discussion of what's important, educate voters about how the candidate might perform in office, and then produce a slate of general election nominees through a large enough percentage of the electorate to engender confidence that the public's majority will has been served.

It's hard to claim that happened when you get nominated thanks to eight members of your family and a couple of the guys around the office who were the only ones who even knew you wanted the job.

The best mandate an elected official can get is a majority of the voters in a well-publicized election capped off by a good turnout on election day. When you deliberately duck the primary process, you are deliberately ducking the voters. It can be done, but it's not the same as winning an election.

There are still a few days to file for the primary. If you're lying low, waiting for the write-in process to do for you what the primary election ballot is supposed to do, please reconsider.

Nothing is more satisfying than knowing you got the votes of strangers. If you want an office, then run for it.

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