Writing-In Harrisonburg

Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson in Dec 2011.
Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson in Dec 2011.

In general, the November 3rd elections in the city of Harrisonburg were a rather dull affair.  Although citizens had the opportunity to vote for six different contests, only one office, state senator, was contested.  As you might expect, this lack of choices inspired a handful of folks to write-in candidates.  Fellow blogger Rick Sincere often pens an article about the write-in votes in Charlottesville, but what names do people write-in in Harrisonburg?  Well, I decided to visit the local registrar’s office to find out.

In case you are wondering, once the election results have been certified they are made available to the public.  Unfortunately, they aren’t listed on a nice, neat, printed sheet, but rather each write-in vote is printed on a long piece of narrow paper, which resembles a register receipt.  Having previously worked as an election official in Rockingham County, I know that some voters write-in made up or fictitious characters, like Mickey Mouse or “anyone else”, but how many real people could be identified?  For the record, I only went through the data once, so it is possible the numbers I list below aren’t quite right.  Nevertheless, if you live in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County, I think you’ll find them of interest.

In the race for the 26th Virginia Senate seat, there were only 14 write-in votes in Harrisonburg, likely low because voters had at least two choices.  April Moore, the Democratic candidate, won Harrisonburg and Republican Mark Obenshain got second.  However, there was a three-way tie for third place between Christopher Runion, Lowell Fulk, and yours truly as we each had two write-ins.

Moving on to the 26th House of Delegates seat where Republican Tony Wilt ran unopposed, there were almost 11% write-ins, the highest for any of the seats in play.  Harrisonburg City Council member Kai Degner took second with 19 votes, followed by Rockingham County School member Lowell Fulk with 14 votes.  Both Degner and Fulk had each previously been the Democratic nominee for this office in earlier elections.  Other write-ins of note included:  Harvey Yoder with three votes, my partner on the radio Andy Schmookler with two votes, local political activist Dale Fulk with two votes, and Harrisonburg Democratic Party Chair Deb Fitzgerald also with two. Many people received one write-in vote including: former Harrisonburg City Council members Dorn Peterson and George Pace, Virginia Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw, Harrisonburg Mayor Chris Jones, the Virginia Libertarian Party Vice-chairman Dr. James Lark III, State Senator Creigh Deeds from Bath County, former Harrisonburg Republican Party Chairman John Elledge, the 2015 Democratic candidate for Virginia Senate April Moore, 2014 city council candidates Alleyn Harned and Joshua Huffman, and several of my Facebook friends such as: Jeremy Aldrich, Shammara Blanchard, and Matthew Phillippi.

Finishing in second in the race for sheriff with seven write-in votes was Harvey Yoder.  Third was former sheriff candidate Kurt Boshart with five and fourth was Chris Monahan with three.  Other names with one or more votes include: Kai Degner, Dale Fulk, Lowell Fulk, local TV anchor Bob Corso, former sheriff Glenn Weatherholtz, 6th District Democratic Party Chair Joe Fitzgerald, former sheriff candidate CM Hess, City Council member Richard Baugh, Greg Nesselrodt (one of my good friends in high school), and again one vote for me.  I’m not quite sure why someone would think me as being qualified for sheriff, but that is another issue.

For Harrisonburg/Rockingham Clerk of Court, Renee Evans Haywood captured nine write-ins.  Other names of note included: Kai Denger, Dale Fulk, former treasurer candidate Penny Imeson, former council member Charlie Chenault, school board member Andy Kohen, local TV producer Channing Frampton, Joe Fitzgerald, Chris Jones, Lowell Fulk, a previous clerk candidate Diane Fulk, local political activist Dave Briggman, former HHS classmate W.O. Brown III, and a vote for me.  I assure you that someone wrote me in, but I didn’t do it.

Moving on to Harrisonburg/Rockingham Commonwealth Attorney, many people tied for second with two votes: Dale Fulk, Tricia Nesselrodt, John Elledge, and former House of Delegates candidate Gene Hart.  Other names with a vote include: Lowell Fulk, Andy Kohen, radio personality Karl Magenhoffer, attorney Bob Keefer, attorney Roland Santos, high school friend Edward Panchari, and me, Joshua Huffman.

In the special election for Harrisonburg School Board to replace Dany Fleming, Mr. Fleming captured the most write-in votes with ten.  Other candidates of interest with one or more votes include: Dale Fulk, Lowell Fulk, Steve Nesselrodt, Tricia Nesselrodt, Mark Finks, former school board member Tom Mendez, Erin Phillippi, Matt Phillippi, Charlie Chenault, Violet Allain (who hosted a city council meet-and-greet for the candidates at her house last year), Channing Frampton, and another vote for me.

Lastly, there weren’t too many write-in votes for Soil & Water Conservation Director.  Dale Fulk had two, radio personality Jim Britt had one, several of my friends had one such as Tristan Flage, Joe Rudmin, and Matt Phillippi, and, again, one person decided to write my name in for this office.

Although some write-in votes are nonsensical or vulgar, for others write-ins are a way to show dissatisfaction with the possible choices, or in the case of the 2015 elections in Harrisonburg, the lack of choices.  And, to the handful of people who decided to write me in, I certainly appreciate your vote, but I’m not running for anything right now.  I hope I can earn your support when and if the time comes again.

Yes, writing-in might be annoying for those election officials counting the ballots, but it can be a fascinating insight into the minds of the disaffected voter.  Hopefully the citizens of Harrisonburg will have at least two choices for every elected office in 2016, in which case we should see a dip in write-in votes in the next election.

Lessons Learned in the Race for GOP Sheriff

We are ten days removed from the GOP primary for Harrisonburg/Rockingham County Sheriff.  However, I wanted to offer a few more observations regarding the race before it is shelved to memory.

If you will recall from my last post, both the local paper and TV news station reported differing vote totals.  The Daily News Record stated that Hutcheson won by about 500 votes (2,963-2,414), while WHSV had a margin of about 1,500 (3,963-2,414).  Given my expectations regarding the race, I assumed that the DNR’s statement was closer to the mark.  However, according to the July 14th issue of the DNR, the Rockingham County Republican Party released that Hutcheson triumphed by about 1,100 votes (3,224-2,153).   Breaking the total down further, Hutcheson lost Harrisonburg 493 to 670, but won the county 2,731 to 1,483.

What makes this election particularly remarkable is Hutcheson’s victory (not to mention his margin of victory).  If you will recall, back on June 26th I wrote, “I’ll wager that once next month’s dust settles that Boshart will be the GOP nominee”.  But why did I reach such a conclusion?

Let’s consider their perceived efforts.  For many months leading up to the primary, I saw Boshart at just about every Republican function while Hutcheson was more or less absent.  Sure, Hutcheson was the featured speaker at one of the First Friday functions (which unfortunately I missed), but why didn’t he do a better job reaching out to the Republican activists?  After all, active Republicans are far more likely to vote in Republican primaries than the average voter.  To compare politics to an orchard, if you have a limited amount of time, shouldn’t you harvest the low hanging fruit first before using a ladder to reach the upper branches?

What about direct voter contact?  Although I personally received nothing from either campaign, I hear that Boshart was far more prolific when it came to direct mail.

Third were the endorsements.  It seemed that just about every elected Republican official in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County were on the Boshart bandwagon.  State Senator Mark Obenshain, Delegate Tony Wilt, Clerk of Court Chaz Evans-Haywood…the list goes on.

So, why did Hutcheson win?  Well, as far as I can tell, there were three major reasons.

First, he expanded the base.  When I went to vote, I did not recognize a majority of the folks there.  I’d bet that many of the people who voted either never attended an official Republican function or only did so sporadically.  Although Rockingham County is among the most Republican counties in the state, I assure you that there are not 4,000 regularly active Republicans within the borders.  It seems that Hutcheson not only appealed to the more casual Republican voter, but also convinced them to come out to the polls.

How about the Hutcheson endorsements?  As mentioned, the Republican leadership favored Boshart, but Hutcheson seemed to have an edge when it came to law enforcement.  Shortly before the election, Hutcheson put an advertisement in the paper that listed a multitude of retired law enforcement officers who supported him for Sheriff.  I thought the ad was exceedingly effective.  After all, wouldn’t law enforcement personal know the demands and required qualifications for Sheriff far better than the average citizen?

Last, we have to ask; can too many endorsements be a bad thing?  Again, it seemed that every elected Republican supported Boshart.  As a result, on more than on occasion I heard the term “good old boys network” to characterize the situation.  If you are unfamiliar with the phrase, according to Wikipedia, it “describes a system of social networking/cronyism perceived to exist among communities and social strata…Some negative effects of the good ol’ boy network are its exclusion of others, leading to leaders of a community possibly limiting business transactions to other elites, or to friends or acquaintances from within the network, to give friends better deals, and generally to reinforce traditional power structures over any other elements in the society.”  Thus, among some people, the fear was that Boshart was not the most qualified candidate, but rather the one selected in advance by the party machinery.

Here we are, Hess versus Hutcheson.  Although I originally expected Hess to emerge victorious, that was before Hutcheson’s strong showing.  Before I make another incorrect prediction, I’ll have to wait and see what the next few months bring.

So, if you voted in the primary, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.  Did you vote for Hutcheson or Boshart?  More importantly, why did you vote the way you did?  What influenced your decision to vote for (or against) a certain candidate?  Is it one of the reasons that I listed above, or something totally different?  Share with us.

Hutcheson Wins!

I’ve just received word that Bryan Hutcheson has won the Republican primary for Sheriff of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.  Congratulations to him for his victory.

I suppose that the high turnout that I witnessed played a heavy role in his success.  Although we are waiting for the official vote tally with the State Board of Elections, according to WHSV’s website Hutcheson won 3,963 to Boshart’s 2,414.

Once additional details become available, I’ll add more numbers and thoughts.

Update:  Daily News Record lists vote totals as 2,963 to 2,414.

High Turnout!

The Scene Outside Keister (about 4:10 PM)

Well, I have return from voting in the Republican primary for Sheriff.  I figured that it would be a fairly straightforward affair:  Grab the closest parking spot, get in the line for my precinct, vote, and then go home.  As expected, the process was not complex, however, there were far more people voting than I expected.

Now, I know that there is only one voting place for the city of Harrisonburg even though we typically have five and that the polling place is only open from 4 PM to 8 PM, but, with the exception of presidential years, most times you get in and out in about a half an hour or less.  Instead, I found that the closest parking lot was completely full.  Once inside, I had to wait in a lengthy line to be broken into our normal precincts.  My line (Keister) was far and away the busiest.

Outside the polling place, I noticed that at least two of the cars in the parking lot sported stickers for C.M. Hess (the Independent candidate for Sheriff).  At first, I was surprised to see them, but I guess I shouldn’t be.  After all, I vote in Democratic primaries regularly even though I don’t vote Democratic in the general election.  That got me thinking.  I wonder if most Hess people support one of the Republican candidates over the other.  Hmm…

Anyway, given that the overall turnout will likely exceed my expectations, it should be interesting to discover the results.  Will Boshart, who has the backing of pretty much every elected Republican in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, emerge victorious as I predicted?  Or will Hutcheson, who draws primarily from current and retired law enforcement officers, pull out a win?  I guess we’ll find out after 8 PM tonight.

Why Do We Elect A Sheriff?

Today, voters across Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, Virginia will have the opportunity to select a Republican candidate for sheriff.  The choice is between Kurt Boshart and Bryan Hutcheson.  The winner of this contest will go on to face Independent candidate C.M. Hess in the general election.

When speaking with various voters in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, I’ve been stumped by one question.  Let me back up for a second.  From reading this blog, you’ll quickly discover that I try to know just about everything I can about politics.  Therefore, when I don’t have the answer to an inquiry, I research until I find it.  However, I cannot figure out why the voters select the sheriff.

Isn’t the sheriff primarily responsible as the chief law enforcement agent in the city or county?  If that assumption is true, wouldn’t the best sheriff be the person who most efficiently and effectively promotes the laws of a particular locality?  Shouldn’t experience be more important than popularity?  Why, therefore, is the sheriff position subjected to the political process?

Although I know some states have popularly elected judges, I find the idea distasteful.  The creation of the law is a highly partisan process, but shouldn’t the application of the law be uniform?  Isn’t one of the primary purposes of both judges and sheriffs to maintain the law?  If a Republican, Democrat, or Independent chose not to uphold the law of the land, we ought to be outraged.  Need I remind you that legislators alone have the ability to craft laws and not judicial figures?

Now, maybe I just don’t really understand the position of sheriff all that well.  Does he (or she) have some sort of political role to play too?  Is that the reason why parties nominate candidates and voters go to the polls to pick their sheriff?

I could go on here, but I’m hoping a reader can offer comments that will enlighten both my fellow citizens and myself regarding this matter.  Even if you don’t have any firm knowledge, educated guesses are always welcome.

Don’t take me for a fool for asking, but why do we elect a sheriff?

Harrisonburg/Rockingham Politics: Late June

Virginia is gearing up for another election year.  Then again, every year is an election year in this state.  Like New Jersey, Virginia is a bit of an oddity in that we elect our representatives in state government in the odd numbered years.  Although this method does allow our state government to be partially detached from fluctuating national trends, it also means that we elect some legislator or another every November.

Here in the central Shenandoah Valley, office seekers to the House of Delegates, State Senate, and the various constitutional offices are in the early stages of winning allies and expanding their coffers.  We have five House members up for re-election as well as two State Senators.  Right now the field is pretty stable.  None of the present members (all Republicans) have any primary challengers and only one of them, Delegate Dickie Bell of Staunton, currently has a Democratic opponent for the fall.  I’m working on an in-depth analysis of the 20th district contest for an upcoming post.

No doubt the biggest race in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County for 2011 has to be sheriff.  Currently, there are three people seeking the post.  Kurt Boshart and Bryan Hutcheson are vying for the Republican nomination that will be decided on July 12th.  The winner of this contest will face independent candidate C.M. Hess on the November ballot.

But what are my predictions regarding these two races?  Well, for the House of Delegates, Laura Kleiner is pretty green politically (her experience only reaches back to 2009 according to her website) and the newly drawn 20th district is still conservative.  Also, the more I listen to Delegate Bell, the more I like him.  I have to assume that other conservative activists in the Valley are reacting likewise.  Given these factors, I expect Dickie Bell will retain the seat.

As for the sheriff’s race, I’ll wager that once next month’s dust settles that Boshart will be the GOP nominee.  He seems to have a greater support among the Republican faithful and, as far as I can tell, has done a better job courting their support.  However, if the general election were held today, I believe Mr. Hess will prove victorious.  First of all, he is winning the sign war.  Drive around the city and especially the county and you’ll likely see a much greater number of his signs up at local businesses and the yards of supporters than either Hutcheson or Boshart.  Second, partisan leaning seem to have little influence over this race.  Although the area is heavily conservative, voters don’t necessarily favor the Republican nominee over an Independent when it comes to sheriff.  For example, in the last contested race in Harrisonburg in 2003, the Independent beat the Republican by a hefty 18.5%.

When considering either the sheriff or the delegate race, one should always remember that a lot can happen between now and Election Day.  After all, it is only late June now.  As 2006 and 2009 showed, one grievous slip of the tongue or a perceived ethical lapse by a candidate can easily scuttle months or years of effort.  Barring any major setback, the strength or weakness of a campaign effort will have a far greater impact than anything else…except maybe the lines of the district in question.

As with any political campaign, it should be interesting to watch.