Lincoln sees ‘a remarkable day for write-ins’

LINCOLN — Tuesday, March 5, was what Lincoln Town Clerk Sally Ober called “a remarkable day for write-ins,” when four residents earned substantive support at the polls as write-in candidates for elected municipal positions.
Of the four that ran, two were elected. One write-in candidate, Bay Jackson, earned 90 votes in a race for a one-year term on the selectboard, despite announcing her candidacy after Lincoln’s town meeting on Monday evening. 
“She walked in the door on the morning of the election right as voting was starting and said, ‘I want to run for selectboard,’” recalled Ober. Jackson, 37 and a lifelong resident of Lincoln, proceeded to make her case outside the polling place.
“The problem with running as a write-in is that you talk with people outside the door and they remember your name, but when they get into the booth, they can’t remember what you are running for,” Ober said. “She was written in for almost every other race on our ballot. She got 16 votes for the three-year selectboard term and she was written in for school director. If people had known ahead of time and paid attention, it might have been closer.
“She didn’t win, but she made an amazing showing.”
Jackson, who runs Appleyard Arts Camp, is a doula and has three children enrolled in Lincoln Community School, was motivated by a desire to see younger people get involved with community governance. By her count, this was the 12th town meeting she has attended in Lincoln.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” she said of running for selectboard. “Sitting in the meeting, I felt like there was a disconnect between parts of the creative, lively community that I know exists in Lincoln and what I saw. I really felt it was the time to bring some new life and energy to the selectboard and I was thinking about all of these conversations I have with my peers and with other people in the community and about bringing those ideas forward for change.”
According to Ober, Jackson stood outside of the Town Hall for the better part of polling hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, greeting voters and informing them of her intent to run. “She spent so much time out there, all bundled up in her winter clothes. And it was freezing! That just blew me away.”  
Jackson said she was concerned by the small number of elected officials under the age of 60 and the number of young people who participated in the meeting.
“One aspect of growing up in Lincoln that I really appreciate is that I was raised in a way that was very multigenerational. I want this place to be vibrant for generations to come, and it’s not going to be if we don’t show up,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I’m also a huge Bernie supporter and I really appreciate what he has to say about not sitting around and waiting for someone else to do it.”
Jackson, who graduated from Mount Abraham Union High School, left Lincoln to attend Skidmore College. She and her husband, Josiah Jackson, bought land in Lincoln in 2005. They now operate a farm together and she says many of her peers have returned to Lincoln over the years to raise families.
“I knew it was a long shot, but if anything, the point was to stir the pot and inspire fellow younger folks to step up to the plate.”
In her 13 years as town clerk, Ober, who was re-elected Tuesday, has never seen so many write-ins in an election as Town Meeting Day 2019. In part, that’s because she and the selectboard work hard to make phone calls and encourage community members to run for office when vacancies arise. “It is a very time-consuming thing to count write-ins,” said Ober. “In a typical year, we might get one or two, but this time it took us all night.”
Ober said it is common for people to miss-spell a candidate’s name, to write illegibly or to fill out the ballot incorrectly. She has seen ballots where people write one name all over the sheet of paper, potentially skewing votes for other positions. “Our job is to discern voter intent. I tell people, if you have a name that is hard to spell, get out there early and make sure people know how to spell it.”
As Ober points out, it’s not very difficult to get your name on the ballot. Citizens must earn the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in their town. “In Lincoln, that’s just 11 people, so really, you could stand at the general store for about 15 minutes and get your name on the ballot,” Ober said.
Petitions do have to be filed several weeks before the election.
Often, Ober says, write-ins happen when a person who is not politically inclined but cares about the community sees a vacancy in the town report. Across Addison County’s 23 towns, there were probably fewer than a dozen contested elections and many towns saw unfilled elected positions. Lincoln saw a 32 percent turnout for its Australian ballot vote, well above the statewide average for 2018, cited at 23 percent by the Vermont Secretary of State’s office.
In addition to Jackson, other write-in candidates that showed up when Lincoln  ballots were counted Tuesday night were Jim Brown, Elizabeth Ratta and David D’Alleine. With 347 voters casting ballots, Brown was elected uncontested to a three-year term as town lister with 59 write-ins and Ratta beat out D’Alleine for a three-year seat on the Mount Abraham Unified School District Board, 44-24 votes. All three were write-in candidates who decided to run for office after seeing a blank next to the open position in the town report. Ober said that both Ratta and D’Alleine told her that they were seeking write-in votes but both suggested they might just as well not run if there was already a write-in candidate; but Ober urged them both to run so that the public would have a real choice.
Jackson says that if she runs again, which she may, she will do a little more preparation.
“At this point I’d say I’ll potentially (run again). I’m not putting my name out there now,” she said. “This experience was really great but next time I would do it in such a way that I petition to get my name on the ballot in January.”

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