“To vote is like the payment of a debt, a duty never to be neglected, if its performance is possible.”
— Rutherford B. Hayes
“Take it from me: Every vote counts.”
— Al Gore
For more than 15 years, I have volunteered on almost every election night to work at the Delaware County Board of Elections. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, my task was to inspect punch card ballots — always in conjunction with another person who represented the other major political party. In later years, when the punch card machines were replaced with electronic voting, my task shifted to verifying that all the necessary voting equipment and logs were returned before the actual data was tabulated.
There are many wonderful memories from those nights of volunteering. I will forever remember the 2000 presidential election, reviewing punch cards with Delaware Township Trustee Roger VanSickle as we listened to a radio learning first that Florida had been called for Al Gore and then that it was back in the toss-up column again. It is a pleasure every year to see return volunteers and poll workers- people who are committed to the democratic process.
From the early days when the office was run by Janet Brenneman and Kim Spangler, to today under the direction of Karla Herron and Josh Pedaline, the Board of Elections has been staffed by dedicated employees. Having seen the inner workings of the process and the people behind it, I am firmly convinced in the reliability of our election results.
A few years ago, I was given the unusual task of helping to count write-in votes in a local race in which there were multiple open seats, but only one named candidate on the ballot. The process to write in the name of a candidate has changed with the development of electronic voting machines.
No pen or paper is involved now. Instead, the voter selects the ‘write-in candidate’ button and the voting machine produces an on-screen keypad. Using the keypad, the voter then types in the name of the candidate. If you’re voting absentee, the paper ballot still has a space to write-in the candidate’s name.
But not just any name will do. Under Ohio law, a candidate must file an appropriate petition within the statutory time frames. That petition must be reviewed and approved as being valid. Only then can someone cast a write-in vote for the candidate that will actually count. Other write-in votes will appear on the voting machine print-outs, but they will not be counted by the Board of Elections as a valid vote.
Gov. John Kasich was in the news this week for his announcement that he had written in the name of Arizona Senator John McCain when casting his vote for President.
McCain was the Republican Party’s candidate in 2008, but is not a valid write-in candidate this year. There are, however, 18 valid Presidential write-in candidates in Ohio this year, along with the five candidates whose names actually appear on the ballot.
Working an election where I got to tally write-in votes confirmed that the stories about people writing in strange or unusual things are certainly true. There were votes that year for Mickey Mouse, votes for professional athletes and votes for dead Presidents. My favorite write-in vote in that election was cast for a fictional television character, Walter White of the AMC show ‘Breaking Bad.’
There are states that have wide open write-in voting, but here in Ohio, the candidates must follow strict guidelines, and the voters must know which candidates have done so in order to ensure that their write-in vote will count.
David Hejmanowski is Judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.