Ray Pawlak is no stranger to winning elections.
But the four-term former Geneva alderman recommends those who want to follow in his footsteps to do the legwork of getting their names preprinted on the ballot rather than hope voters will write the name of their choice themselves.
“You can win an election as a write-in candidate,” Pawlak said. “I’m living proof of that.
“But it means you have about four times as much work to do, if you don’t just get your name on the ballot. Election campaigns are hard enough.”
In April, voters will choose representatives on city councils, village boards, school boards, park boards, library boards and in their townships.
In some races, the ballots will be packed with the names of those who gathered signatures of friends and neighbors on nominating petitions that allow them to place their names on the ballots.
But in other races this year, candidates willing to move through the nominating process have been harder to find. That has presented real chances for victory to those who take the electoral route less traveled and run as write-in candidates.
In Kaneland School District 302, only two candidates – current Kaneland board President Cheryl Krauspe and Pedro Rivas – filed nominating petitions.
With three seats open, that means a write-in candidate could win – provided the candidate lives in any township within the school district’s boundaries besides Sugar Grove Township. Currently, there are three members of the school board who live in Sugar Grove Township. Because none of their seats are on the April ballot, Illinois law prohibits anyone else from Sugar Grove Township from a seat on the board.
Candidates may come from Campton, Blackberry, Virgil or Kaneville townships, or the portions of DeKalb County within the Kaneland district.
To date, one candidate has indicated an intent to run as a write-in, said Kaneland Superintendent Jeff Schuler. But that candidate, Peter Lopatin, lists an address in Sugar Grove.
In Geneva Township, Geoffrey Carreiro has indicated an intent to run as a write-in candidate for township clerk, and in Batavia, Steve Holland is running as a write-in for 7th Ward alderman. Both men were unopposed as of Tuesday.
Seven candidates have filed declarations of intent to run as write-ins in Kane County in April, said Suzanne Fahnestock, director of elections at the Kane County Clerk’s Office. That total compares favorably to the last municipal consolidated election in the spring of 2011, when eight write-in candidates sought office in Kane County, according to information supplied by Fahnestock.
But in 2011, no write-in candidates secured office locally.
Notable local write-in candidates in that election included Kristin LeBlanc, who challenged Campton Hills Village President Patsy Smith as a write-in and amassed 545 votes in a losing cause.
There are reasons why write-in candidates typically struggle to win elections, Pawlak said. Running as a write-in is not as simple as putting out signs and fliers and asking people to vote for you.
The process begins when a prospective write-in candidate files a notice of intent with the county clerk’s office. From there, write-in candidates must work hard, often going door to door to not only introduce themselves and ask for votes but also educate the voters on how to vote for a write-in candidate.
“The process is very precise,” Pawlak said.
In Illinois, ballots include a blank line at the end of the list of candidates for each office. But voters must print the name of their write-in candidate exactly as it is written on the document filed by the candidate with the county clerk’s office.
Election judges then evaluate the written-in ballots after the election and determine whether the votes for the write-in candidate should count.
“If it’s not entirely correct, it probably won’t count,” Pawlak said.
When Pawlak ran as a write-in candidate for alderman in 1995, he was forced into that role after he failed to properly educate himself on how to file candidate nominating petitions. When he missed the deadline, he was fortunate to enter a race in which no other candidates were on the ballot.
“I ran against another guy who was a write-in candidate, luckily,” Pawlak said. “But I was still out there, every night after work and on weekends.”
And almost two decades later, Pawlak’s advice to those considering running as a write-in candidate is simple: Do it, if you must. But otherwise, go the traditional campaign route.
“Go out there and get your signatures, and get your name printed on that ballot,” Pawlak said. “It’s just so much easier.”