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Underdogs or Not, Write-In Candidates Press On

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Underdogs or Not, Write-In Candidates Press On

WBEZ/file

The November election is two months away. Major party politicians are out campaigning; some of their TV ads have begun playing. Lesser-known candidates are just trying to get voters to remember their names. This is especially important for those most underdog of underdogs: the write-in candidates.

A write-in candidacy is probably the least-formal of all candidacies. It’s a last-minute stab at electoral relevance, for candidates who either couldn’t - or didn’t try - to navigate the complicated process of getting their names printed on the ballot. But even this route isn’t exactly simple. So says the Illinois election code:

ELECTION CODE (played by WBEZ’s Don Hall): Write-in votes shall be counted only for persons who have filed notarized declarations of intent to be write-in candidates with the proper election election authorities.

HUDZIK: So, so let me get this straight: even to be a write-in candidate, you have to file some paperwork?

NELSON: That is correct.

Doreen Nelson is with the DuPage County Election Commission.

NELSON: The law changed quite a few years ago mandating that so election officials no longer had to tally all the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck write-in votes that were being cast.

HUDZIK: So if I go into my polling place and I vote for Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck - what, what happens to my vote?

NELSON: That vote is overlooked by the judges and no tally is done for those votes cast.

And this declaration of intent has to be filed - by the end of Thursday - with every local election authority that a write-in candidate wants to run-in, such as the DuPage County Election Commission or the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

To be a true “statewide” write-in candidate, an aspiring office holder has to turn in a form in to all 110 election authorities in Illinois. U.S. Senate candidate Bob Zadek says he’s done that.

ZADEK: Zadek is a very easy name to write in. Z-A-D-E-K. First name: Bob.

Zadek tried to get on the ballot the conventional way, by collecting signatures. But knowing he wouldn’t survive an objection to his paperwork by the major parties, he opted to take the write-in route. Zadek refuses to concede his odds of winning are long.

ZADEK: Years ago, when this...country was [first] founded, people picked up a musket and fought...to save this country, and they thought it was impossible. Now all you have to do is pick up a pencil and write my name in.

He insists his bid for the Senate is getting a lot of support because he says he’s the most conservative candidate in the race.

ZADEK: I think I’m going to get 1,250,000 votes.

The top write-in pick in 2006, candidate for governor Randy Stufflebeam, got close to 20,000 votes. A strong showing, certainly, but nowhere near enough to win. Write-in victories do happen every now and then, though on a smaller scale.

Pat Probst did it in 2005. She’s a nurse from the tiny Kane County village of Virgil, and wanted to stop a housing development that would’ve made the town much larger.

PROBST: They wanted to build like 2,500 homes and bring in like 8,000 people, and a lot of us decided that just wasn’t for us.

So Probst ran as a write-in candidate for village trustee. She teamed up with another candidate opposed to the housing development.

PROBST: The two of us just went around town, and we just went door to door. And we actually had little cards that we made up, like little credit-type cards that had my name on it, how to vote as a write-in.

Sure enough, those little cards worked. Probst got 56 votes, while her opponent, who was on the actual ballot, got 47.

On her singular issue - the housing development she opposed - Probst was actually on the losing side of the village board vote. But in the end, the development never took shape. So, a victory of sorts for Probst. And after her term ran up, she decided not to seek re-election because she didn’t have enough time to devote to it.

PROBST: There’s lots of things that I don’t understand and I felt that there was somebody that was more qualified than me.

That’s not something you normally hear from your average politician. But then again, write-in candidates aren’t exactly your average politicians.

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