Gaithersburg ends write-in candidates in city elections

Gaithersburg ends write-in candidates in city elections

Council says bar to get on ballot already is low

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The Gaithersburg City Council voted unanimously on Monday night to get rid of write-in candidates in city elections.

The mayor and council started talking in February about eliminating write-ins at the request of the city’s Board of Supervisors of Elections.

The six-member board made the recommendation because of what it called a “low bar” for candidates to get on the ballot. The board also said the write-in process confuses voters and election workers.

To get on the ballot, candidates must collect at least 100 signatures from Gaithersburg voters and be registered to vote in the city. They must also submit campaign finance reports, attend candidate training sessions and write a biographical summary.

Write-in candidates were allowed to run without appearing on the ballot if they filed a certificate of candidacy at least six days before the first early voting session. They did not need to collect signatures, but needed to be registered to vote in the city.

The city was posting biographical information and headshots on its website both for candidates on the ballot and for write-ins.

Last year, Juan Aguirre, Nicole Ukiteyedi and Carol Johnson ran as write-in candidates, unsuccessfully challenging incumbent Council Members Ryan Spiegel, Robert Wu and Neil Harris, who were reelected to four-year-terms.

Gaithersburg’s next municipal election is in November 2021.

At Monday night’s meeting, Council Members Mike Sesma and Harris said collecting 100 signatures shouldn’t be difficult for getting on the ballot.

“If you want to run, and some of you have the smarts to do it, the dedication and the commitment, start putting your ideas together. Start talking to people. Organize a campaign and submit your candidate petition,” Sesma said.

Spiegel and Council Members Robert Wu and Laurie-Anne Sayles voted in favor of scrapping write-ins, but all said they were somewhat conflicted.

Spiegel said he was one of the council members who voted in favor of allowing write-in candidates about seven years ago. The idea was to increase voter participation following an uncontested city election with low turnout.

Spiegel said there should be a more clear distinction between write-ins and candidates on the ballot, through measures such as only allowing candidates on the ballot to post biographical information on the city’s website.

“When you blur the lines too much, and give a write-in candidate the flavor of the regular candidate, it sort of penalizes those who go through the normal process to be regular candidates,” he said. “But, having said all that, I still feel a little queasy about the idea of completely removing all prospects of any …. write-in candidate.”

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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