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updated: 3/11/2013 11:17 AM

Write-in candidates hope to overcome hefty odds

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  • Joseph Kozenczak

      Joseph Kozenczak

  • Bill DiFulvio

      Bill DiFulvio

  • Jan Hope

      Jan Hope

  • Michael Kozel

      Michael Kozel

 

Longshot. Virtual impossibility. Slim to none.

Those are just a few of the phrases that political experts -- even those mounting the untraditional campaigns -- use to describe a write-in candidate's chances at victory.

Yet suburbanites are giving it a go in dozens of races from library board contests to citywide mayoral bids, hopeful that often apathetic voters will go the extra mile by physically writing in a name while casting a ballot on April 9.

"It is very, very, very difficult for a write-in candidate to win," said Matt Streb, chair of the Northern Illinois University political science department. "I don't want to say it's virtually impossible, but it's awfully darn hard."

Still, it's not unheard of.

In 2010, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski became the first U.S. senator in more than 50 years to win as a write-in candidate, defeating Tea Party favorite Joe Miller.

Closer to home, write-in Gerald "Skip" Farley won the race for Mount Prospect village president in 1997. Two years later, Gerald Anderson won the Prospect Heights village presidency in the same manner.

Hoping to join the exclusive group of winners in one of this election season's more high-profile races is Barrington resident Mike Kozel, who, along with two running mates, was thrown off the ballot in January as a village trustee candidate for failing to file a statement of economic interest on time.

Kozel said his subsequent decision to challenge Barrington Village President Karen Darch as a write-in was based largely on his experience running for the board two years ago. At that time, Kozel ran independently against a united slate of three other trustee candidates. He said he realized that even if his message had connected with some voters, he was losing momentum with every ballot cast as he was getting only one of their three trustee votes.

So, determined to have a voice on the next village board, he said it logistically made sense to run for the unique office of president against one opponent. He said he intends to win and has heard enough residents express discontent with the current board that he believes he has a chance.

Barrington has a modest-sized population and this particular election doesn't seem likely to draw a large turnout, enhancing his chances, Kozel said.

"It's not insurmountable," Kozel said. "This is a big commitment. I believe I can make a difference."

Streb, the NIU professor, expects voter turnout next month could hit historic lows, as people are generally worn out on politics after a presidential election.

Turnout has trended downward in recent years. In April 2011, just 16 percent of suburban Cook County's 1.4 million registered voters went to the polls. DuPage County saw just 16.4 percent turnout, its lowest in municipal election history, while Kane County saw a paltry 12.4 percent turnout. Lake and McHenry counties both saw about 15 percent.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we saw 10 percent," Streb said. "Although, places with mayoral elections could see a little more interest."

Also running as a write-in candidate is South Elgin Trustee Bill DiFulvio, who was kicked off the ballot by a Kane County judge for failing to number the two pages of his nominating petitions.

DiFulvio, who's seeking his fourth term in office, acknowledges the challenges but said he decided to run as a write-in after requests from friends and supporters.

His name recognition in South Elgin and past experience running for office should improve his odds, according to Sharon Alter, professor emeritus of history and political science at Harper College in Palatine.

"He has more of a voting record and already ran -- and won -- multiple times," Alter said. "He can use that in his campaign."

Alter said DiFulvio and other write-in candidates have to conduct two campaigns: one for themselves, and a second to instruct voters how to properly cast a ballot.

If she were advising, Alter said, she would create a piece of campaign literature showing a candidate's qualifications and positions on one side and a diagram on the other of how to cast a write-in vote.

Favoring write-ins, especially those with more involved names such as Keeneyville Elementary School District 20 board hopeful Yvette Vega-Barajas, is Illinois law. It doesn't require voters to be completely accurate in spelling a name.

"It's the intent of the voter that matters," DuPage Election Commission Executive Director Robert Saar said. "The (election) judges get sent a form of the prequalified, certified (write-in) candidates so they don't tabulate Mickey Mouse, but they only need to determine a voter's intent."

Another factor that could help write-in candidates is running in a less populated or more manageable jurisdiction.

In Des Plaines, for instance, former Des Plaines police chief Joseph Kozenczak is running as a write-in candidate for the city's 7th Ward. There is no incumbent in the race, which experts say improves the odds, and Kozenczak, now a private investigator, has the name recognition as one of the investigators who in 1978 unearthed 27 graves from the crawl space of serial killer John Wayne Gacy's Norwood Park Township home.

He also has campaign experience with an unsuccessful run in 2009. Only about 1,000 people voted then.

"I feel that I'm in a little different position than the average write-in candidate," Kozenczak said. "I actually garnered 43 percent of the vote (in 2009)."

Kozenczak said recent scandals within the Des Plaines Police Department prompted him to throw his name into the race against opponents John Malloy and Joanna Sojka.

While many candidates run as write-ins because they were kicked off the ballot, that's not the case for Jan Hope, running for the Lake Villa Elementary District 41 board.

The 13-year Lake Villa resident said the district held a community forum in January and informed residents it might have to close a school building, cut programs or go to voters for a tax increase to offset a $1.8 million annual deficit. By then, the deadline to file nominating petitions had passed.

"I finally got aggravated enough that I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring," Hope said.

She's making signs, using Facebook to get out her message and meeting with voters in person. She also hands out sample ballots to educate people on how to vote for a write-in candidate and encourages them to utilize early voting or mail-in ballots.

"We're working hard, and I'm hoping it's enough," Hope said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Madhu Krishnamurthy and Eric Peterson contributed to this report.

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