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Mitchell: Aldermanic write-ins can’t be written off

Updated: May 29, 2011 4:46AM

With less than 24 hours before polls opened, Roger L. Washington, a write-in candidate in the 24th Ward race, was knocking on doors.

Washington, a Chicago Police officer, and an associate pastor at a church in Maywood, is one of 41 candidates who ended up as write-ins for aldermanic races.

Four years ago, Washington’s crusade might have seemed like a waste of time. But not now.

Alaskan Republican Lisa Murkowski made believers out of us last year when she became the first senator in 50 years to win an election with a write-in campaign.

Washington was booted off the ballot because some of the people who signed his petitions printed letters instead of using cursive for their signature.

“So the election board was able to knock me off. But people were so excited just to support me, I didn’t want to give up. I got off the ballot, but I did not get out of the race.”

Similarly, Brian Matos, an Internet radio producer and engineer, and the sole Republican running in the 36th Ward, decided he would keep going after his name was removed from the ballot.

“We weren’t going to allow that to stand in the way. In addition to getting our name out there, I spent the last month or so making sure voters know we were in the race and making sure folks know how to vote correctly,” Matos said.

Voters not only have to print Matos’ name in the write-in section, they have to check the box next to his name.

“It’s unusual for a candidate who is asking for your support to also have to say: ‘Here’s how you have to vote for me,’ ” he said. “They want to know my story. Why I decided to run. Why I didn’t quit after I got kicked off ballot. Hopefully, it gave them a glimpse into my character and into the fact that I will not quit on them.”

People had to declare themselves as write-in candidates by Dec. 22 in order to be put on the “Write-In List.” The official list is posted on the Chicago Board of Election’s website.

The exception to the deadline would be candidates who are still fighting challenges or those who were removed after the deadline.

Frankly, if you’ve mastered technology, pulling off a credible write-in campaign for alderman is doable.

“I saved a lot of money,” said Denise Denson, one of three candidates running as a write-in candidate in the 8th Ward.

“I had been out here passing out my literature since August, and I’d laid my foundation, so I had to get back out here and let people know they have to write me in,” she said.

Denson had cards printed detailing how to write her name on the ballot.

“I am going to see how it turns out,” she said. “I think it is going to catch on. But right now, a lot of people don’t take you seriously. It is going to take some write-in candidates to win.”

After months of talking and educating himself and voters on the issues, Matos said he is eager for a result. He is running against John A. Rice, who recently was appointed to replace former Ald. William Banks, a fixture at City Hall. Four others are on the ballot.

“As a write-in, you are a long shot and people don’t expect too much. But anybody who goes out and makes the effort and writes my name and check that box, they either believe in me or believe in what I believe in. In my neighborhood, for so many years there hasn’t been a choice.”

I wouldn’t count any of the write-ins out of the running.

After all, the Internet has revolutionized how we communicate.

All three of the write-in candidates I quoted above are on multiple sites. A voter can actually go to the MatosforChicago website and see a sample ballot with his name written in.

“Everything you need is on the Internet,” Denson said. “That is how I got through the campaign.”

It is still too easy to kick a candidate off the ballot for things like illegible signatures and unpaid parking tickets, even though the tickets may actually belong to someone else.

Obviously, people who live in these wards know who has been serving the community and who has been exploiting it. The people behind our election laws didn’t give voters enough credit.

So get out and vote. Candidates have worked too hard for us to squander our rights.

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