Write-ins discouraged by local election officials

By Greg Markley
Opelika Observer

There is a lull before the 2016 general election in Lee County, but one never knows what nugget can be unearthed when looking at write-ins from past elections, such as the general election on Nov. 4, 2014.
For instance, Opelika realtor and former state legislator John Rice’s name was written in for the PSC in 2014, but that is eight years after he lost a run as a Republican. Alabama Crimson Tide football coach Nick Saban got a nod for the Court of Criminal Appeals, as did Auburn Tigers football coach Gus Malzahn. Curiously, neither Saban nor Malzahn are attorneys.
“Under state law, write-ins are not allowed in municipal elections (nonpartisan),” explained Bob Shuman, Opelika’s city clerk. If that is done, the ballot would be voided, or certified as an invalid ballot. These write-ins can be a headache in some ways.”
As city clerk, Shuman serves as the city’s election manager and is responsible for planning, conducting and supervising all of Opelika’s elections. Regarding write-ins, he sought out city attorney Guy Gunter, who said election law for municipalities indicates that write-in votes are not allowed in city elections.
Probate Judge Bill English, who supervises Lee County elections, said that the most common way for write-ins to be implaced is to write them on the election ballot itself. “Some common write-ins of recent years have been Elvis Presley and Mickey Mouse. These fictitious votes are not counted because they are not for living humans eligible for election.”
English added that people who use the write-in capability in such an inappropriate way should just skip the electoral positions where they do not have a preference from the several bona-fide candidates. Otherwise, their vote will be meaningless as it will not be counted.
In the 2014 general election, in Lee County there were 49 write-ins in the governor’s race won by Republican incumbent Robert Bentley. But there were 614 write-ins in the U.S. Senate race where Jeff Sessions of the GOP was unopposed for a fourth term.
U.S. Senate write-ins in the county included one for former congressional candidate John Sophocleus, a Libertarian and another for Opelika native Tom Whatley, a Republican state senator for District 27. The same write-in voter also picked Rick Hagans, a pastor and founder of Harvest Evangelism in Opelika. Hagans was supported by this voter for the third Congressional seat. (Hagans received more write-in votes for that position than did others.)
In most states, as in Alabama, there are “write-in campaigns,” in which a candidate keeps record of his or fundraising and public files are established for that legitimate write-in effort. For example Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010 became the first U.S. Senate candidate in 56 years to win a write-in campaign. She gained victory over her Tea Party rival despite his edging her in the party primary months before.
But for Murkowski, there were elements that are rare even for “registered” write-in candidates. She was already Alaska’s senior senator, came from a state political dynasty, and had more than $1 million in her campaign bank account. Before Murkowski, the last Senate candidate to succeed as a write-in was Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1954.
With the stakes high, few people tend to write-in alternative names in presidential contests. In the Nov. 6, 2012 general election, only 137 votes out of 54,359 were write-ins, in Lee County. Victory went to Republican Mitt Romney by some 11,000 votes. Also in 2012, Fred Woods, editor of the Opelika Observer, received one vote each for U.S. Representative, Third Congressional District and for Lee County Probate Judge. Woods said he campaigned for neither office.