By Brad Hicks
The race for Unicoi County Assessor of Property has created a unique situation for local voters, as the names of those seeking the office will not appear on the August general election ballot.
Instead, it will be up to voters to write – or more appropriately type – the name of their candidate of choice.
But how does one go about casting a write-in vote? According to Unicoi County Administrator of Elections Sarah Bailey, it’s a fairly simple process.
“Honestly, it’s very simple,” she said. “I would say people, when they get done, are going to be like, ‘Oh, I thought there was going to be more to it than that.’”
On the voting machine screen, voters will see on the ballot an option for “Write-In” under the box for Assessor of Property. Voters wishing to cast a vote will need to press the button alongside the screen adjacent this option.
Once this button has been pressed, the voting screen will change. Each letter of the alphabet will be assigned a button alongside the screen. Voters will use these buttons to type in the name of the candidate for whom they wish to vote by pressing the buttons next to the desired letters of the candidate’s name.
The candidate’s name will appear in a box located in the center of the voting machine screen as the letters are selected.
Voters will also have the ability to insert spaces and make corrections by using the “Space” and “Erase” buttons, respectively.
Once the candidate’s name has been entered, the voter will press the button adjacent to the “Done” option. This will return the voter to the regular ballot screen.
The candidate name entered by the voter will now be displayed below the write-in header within the Assessor of Property section of the ballot.
If a voter wishes to cancel a write-in or enter a new candidate’s name before casting a ballot, he or she may press the “Write-In” button again. From there, the voter will be taken back to the screen allowing a candidate’s name to be entered manually.
The process will be the same whether the vote is cast during the early voting period, which begins on July 15, or the Aug. 4 election day.
Bailey said poll workers will be able to assist those experiencing any difficulty casting a write-in vote.
“They won’t be able to spell a candidate’s name, but they will certainly instruct on how to do a write-in,” she said.
Four candidates – John Day, Teresa Kinsler, Alan “Rocky” McInturff and Richard Seward – are seeking the office of county Property Assessor.
The race for assessor became a write-in only contest after the Unicoi County Republican Party Executive Committee on May 28 opted not to appoint a candidate for the Aug. 4 ballot.
The need to appoint a candidate for the August ballot was created after Margaret Seward, who died the morning of the March 1 primary and whose widower is seeking the office, won the race for assessor of property in the county primary. This created a vacancy that the Executive Committee could have filled had it opted to do so.
Wayne Peterson, another candidate on the primary ballot in the assessor’s race, died on Feb. 16. McInturff was the third candidate on the primary ballot.
Peterson was appointed by the Unicoi County Commission to serve as assessor of property in April 2015 following the retirement of previous assessor Patsy Bennett. Following Peterson’s death, the Commission in March appointed Kinsler as the interim assessor of property.
Depending on voter turnout and the number of voters casting write-in votes, Aug. 4 could be a long evening for local election officials due to the scale of the write-in race.
Bailey said the result tape printed from voting machines will be used to provide the total write-in votes from a precinct, but it will be up to the Election Commission’s four-member Absentee and Write-In Counting Board to review the votes cast and tally the number of write-in votes each candidate has received.
“Let’s say on this machine there were 100 (write-in votes). What they’re going to do is go down there and tally up, this candidate got 20 of those, this candidate got 30 of those, this candidate got 40 and this candidate got 10 or whatever the case may be,” Bailey said. “They’ll have to parse out who the votes were for and, of course, they’ll have to throw out any votes that are ‘Mickey Mouse’ or ‘Nobody’ or whatever the case may be and determine which are legitimate write-ins and which are not.”
The counting board will meet early on Aug. 4 to get started on early voting totals, Bailey said. To help expedite the tallying process, election officials are hopeful that around 60 percent of the county’s voters will participate in early voting.
“The more that vote early, the quicker we will have a total, just because they can work on that throughout election day, whereas precinct votes, they won’t be able to even start those until the precincts close and get the supplies back here,” Bailey said.
For the small percentage of voters who request a ballot by mail or use a paper ballot, Bailey said a flyer will be included allowing them to cast a write-in vote in the Assessor of Property race.
Bailey also said the August general election typically sees a lower turnout than other elections. A total of 4,073 voters – 2,164 during early voting and 1,909 on election day – cast ballots in the county’s August 2012 general election. A total of 3,300 voters voted in the August 2014 election. These ranges represent a 35-40 percent voter turnout, Bailey said.