By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
In addition to the 20 third-party candidates who will be on general election ballots in November, there also are a number of write-ins vying for offices around Wyoming.
Although write-in campaigns typically face an uphill battle by relying on voters to physically write a candidate’s name in for a correct race, there are a few examples where these campaigns have succeeded. In 2010, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, won her general election on a write-in campaign, receiving more than 100,000 votes.
The Murkowski write-in campaign was expensive and used extensive electioneering efforts to help make voters aware of her candidacy.
Technically, anyone can be a write-in candidate, but only certain write-ins are viable candidates.
Senate District 1
One of the most prominent write-in campaigns in Wyoming is for Senate District 1, where write-in candidate Roger Connett is taking on state Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower. Driskill beat Connett in the Republican primary by 442 votes. Rep. Bill Fortner, R-Gillette, also ran in the race, receiving 1,736 votes.
“Our legislator only got 40% of the vote,” said Moorcroft resident Jeff Burian, who is campaigning for Connett. “Sixty percent of the district wanted somebody else.”
Burian is treasurer of the Roger is Right Campaign, a political candidate committee set up on Connett’s behalf that he describes as a “grassroots” effort. He said he expects the donations his group has been receiving to give it enough strength to give Connett a solid chance at winning.
Burian said the group is planning a formal campaign with door knocking and advertising efforts. The campaign also may tap into the $27,000 recently raised by Connett, former chairman of the Crook County Republican Party, and the rest of his party for Republican candidates around the state, but Burian said Connett will not be involved in campaigning efforts.
Wyoming state law precludes a candidate who had his or her name on a primary ballot from campaigning or being printed on the general election ballot.
This race will have significant implications for Senate president. If elected in the general election, Driskill is expected by many to be a likely candidate for the role as he is the sitting Senate majority leader. He has said being Senate president is one of the main reasons he decided to run for reelection.
If he doesn’t win, it may open the door for Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, to take the role as he is the current Senate vice president.
Another write-in campaign is taking place for governor, as Republican primary candidate Brent Bien made a post Sept. 12 advertising his candidacy as a write-in, announcing himself as an “America First Candidate.”
Although Bien finished second to Gov. Mark Gordon in the Republican primary, he lost by a large margin. Bien was supported by many leading members of the Wyoming Republican Party during his campaign.
Secretary Of State
In the race for secretary of state, Rebekah Fitzgerald, a Cheyenne political consultant, said there is an informal movement to write state Sen. Tara Nethercott’s name on the ballot, but no organized effort has come forward. She said phone calls were made to former Murkowski staff about how to run a successful write-in campaign.
“There were some conversations, but we’re kind of getting to a spot where it’s like, ‘are you or aren’t you going to do it?’” she said. “Quite a few folks are interested in writing her name.”
Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, ran in the primary election, finishing second to state Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper. Gray has no official challengers in the general election.
The Crossover Effect
Crossover voting could be one inspiration for some of the write-in candidates. Many Democrats were inspired to register as Republicans so they could vote in the Wyoming congressional race between U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and Harriet Hageman. These voters were more likely to vote for moderate Republicans who shared views more similar to that of their own.
Cheyenne Democrat Jen Solis received enough write-in votes in the primary for House District 41 to qualify as an official candidate for the general election, as there was no Democrat officially running in this race during the primary. Solis accepted the write-in nomination and is now running against Rep. Bill Henerson, R-Cheyenne.
“Even though she’s a write-in candidate, don’t write that one off,” said Marcie Kindred, a Democrat running in Senate District 7. Solis also is Kindred’s campaign treasurer.
Senate District 23
Republican Patricia Junek likely received more than 800 votes while running a formal write-in campaign during the primary election against Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, for Senate District 23.
She now is running as an Independent against Barlow in the general election.
To get on the ballot as an Independent, Junek had to collect at least 379 signatures from registered voters.
Junek said she originally intended to run as an Independent, but misunderstood the state’s laws and incorrectly thought doing so would require her to unregister as a member of the Republican Party.
“We’re very against crossover voting,” she said.
Junek’s confusion led her to start a write-in campaign for the primary, which she now views as a blessing in disguise as it allows the public to become familiar with her. She said she was prevented from participating in multiple political forums because they did not see her as an official candidate.
“A formal write-in campaign also helps with public recognition,” she said.
Junek, who typically goes by “Patty,” opted to go by “Patricia” in her write-in candidacy so there was no confusion about the spelling of her first name, even though she found out later this extra effort was probably unnecessary.
Although there were about 8,000 votes where Murkowski’s name was misspelled in 2010, the courts in Alaska allowed the votes to stand. In Wyoming, it is up to the discretion of county clerks to decide what misspellings they will accept, but Junek said most are fairly lenient on the matter as long as there isn’t another candidate in the same race with a similar name.
Junek said she expects to receive many more votes in November, as people will now get to see her name on the ballot, which she expects will “alleviate confusion.” She also pointed out that there were 805 undervotes in her race (people who voted in other races) but did not cast a vote in hers.
“There were that many people who voted but didn’t vote for Eric Barlow,” she said. “Would they have voted for me if they saw my name on the ballot?”