Ellis Ivory — the new write-in candidate for Salt Lake County mayor — could take heart knowing that dozens of Utah write-in candidates have won in recent years. What may give him heartburn, though, is that none of them prevailed in high-profile races.
Recent write-in winners include a couple of small-county sheriffs (including one blocked from taking office because he was not a certified law officer), city and town council members, local school board members and at least one small-town mayor — who didn't even know his neighbors were writing in his name until he was told he had won.
The most votes that any of those write-in winners achieved in the past 10 years was 694 (won by Mike Adams in an Iron County School Board race in 1996), according to a search of Deseret Morning News archives.
Ivory needs many magnitudes more than that to win his race. For example, Nancy Workman received more than 158,000 votes to win the county mayor's race four years ago.
The one high-profile write-in race in recent history that most mirrors Ivory's situation did not turn out well for the man who waged it. That came in a U.S. House race in 1976, when incumbent Rep. Allan T. Howe, D-Utah, had been arrested for soliciting sex.
Howe convinced the party to stand behind him as its nominee until his trial. But even after he was convicted, Howe refused to drop out of the race — despite pressure from virtually every other major Democratic office-holder.
The State Democratic Central Committee then voted to disassociate itself with Howe but could not remove him from the ballot as its official nominee. It did, however, officially endorse educator Daryl McCarty as a write-in candidate.
Those two Democratic candidates split the vote, and Republican Dan Marriott was elected. McCarty finished a distant third behind Marriott and Howe. Democrats, hurt by Howe, lost big elsewhere on the ballot that year, including seeing U.S. Sen. Ted Moss, D-Utah, beaten by a then little-known newcomer, Orrin Hatch.
Most write-in winners in Utah have run in small races in small areas where simply talking to a few neighbors may have been enough to win — a situation far different than Ivory faces. Many of them actually ran in races where nobody else had bothered to file. Following are some examples from recent years:
In 1985, John Balle of Cedar Fort, Utah County, woke up the day after the election to a phone call from the city recorder. She said, "Congratulations, you're the new mayor." He was surprised because he had not run for the office, but a relative had encouraged others to write in his name. He won by attracting just 26 votes.
Cedar Fort may be the place to live for anyone who wants to win office by write-in. For example, Dennis Malmstrom won a write-in race for the City Council there last year by getting just 17 votes for a seat no one had filed for.
In 2002, Bart D. Albrecht won 665-609 as a write-in candidate against incumbent Wayne County Sheriff Don Torgerson. However, the gas station worker was blocked from taking office because he was not a certified law officer. In 1998, Marty Gleave won a write-in campaign for Piute County sheriff with 563 votes, or 67 percent.
The 1995 city elections were especially kind to write-in candidates statewide, with 32 of them winning. They were elected to city and town councils in Altamont, Alton, Antimony, Bear River, Bicknell, Brian Head, Castle Valley, Henrieville, Holden, Honeyville, Laketown, Moroni, Ophir, Randolph, Santaquin, Scipio, Scofield, Snowville, Sterling, Wallsburg and Woodruff.
However, in eight of those communities, no one ran besides the write-in candidates.
That led to some interesting situations. For example, the bad news for write-in candidate Ken Tuttle of Holden was that he lost the race for its four-year council seat, losing to other write-in candidates. The good news was Holden won the two-year council seat, in part by beating the write-in candidates who had won the four-year seat.
Other offices won recently by write-in candidates include the Washington Terrace City Council (1999 by John Dallinga), the Alpine City Council (1999 by Mel Clement), the Kane County School Board (1998 by Colleen Brinkerhoff), the North Summit School Board (1998 by Jana Ross), and the Grand County Council (1994 by Bart Leavitt).