Posted: May 4, 2007


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Election officials have decided to count the write-in votes Saturday night, along with the machine votes and absentee ballots, rather than take a chance that the Sussex County special election could be left hanging.

Write-in votes typically are not tabulated until two days after an election, when two judges sit as the Board of Canvass to certify the returns, but write-in votes typically do not matter much, either.

This election, however, has been anything but typical. Describing it as a three-way race with Democrat Lynn R. Bullock, Republican Gregory A. Hastings and a minor-party candidate is like pretending the magician has nothing up his sleeve.

Instead, the debate continues as to whether John C. Atkins, the Republican ex-representative, jumped or got pushed out of the state House of Representatives in March when he resigned in disgrace, causing this election, and for the voters who think he was pushed, well, writing him in is sweet revenge.

Without knowing how big a factor the write-ins will be, election officials figured they had better count them. They checked with the judges and a deputy attorney general to find out there was nothing in the law to prevent them from tallying the write-ins Saturday night with the other votes, so they will.

"It's the first time we've ever done this, but it's certainly a special circumstance. The public deserves to know on the night of the election," said Kenneth L. McDowell, the administrative director of the Sussex County Elections Department.

The extra counting will take some extra time. "It may take a little longer to post the results, but we'll have them," said state Elections Commissioner Frank B. Calio.

There is no doubt that a write-in campaign is in full swing. The local newspapers are carrying advertisements that call for one and try to stoke up resentment that Atkins was railroaded out of the House under Majority Leader Richard C. Cathcart, a Middletown Republican. The advertising was placed by David Horsey & Sons, a building firm run by David G. Horsey, who is a Democrat.

"Don't let New Castle politics take away your vote for representative," it reads. "Let's show them Sussex County counts!"

If ever that message would resonate, it would be in the 41st Representative District.

The last time the Republicans there had the opportunity to vote for their party's endorsed candidate or someone else, they ganged up on the party's choice. Jan C. Ting, the endorsed candidate in the 2006 senatorial primary, did win, but in underwhelming fashion with 48 percent of the vote. The majority of the vote, 52 percent, was split between Michael D. Protack at 35 percent and Christine O'Donnell at 17 percent.

The Republicans are working to counter the write-in effort, notably with William Swain Lee, the retired judge who was the 2004 candidate for governor and recently finished a stint as the Sussex County Republican chair.

"There's no doubt that there's mischief involved, but that's politics," Lee said.

Lee sent out a letter to Republican voters and has been on the radio warning they would be throwing their votes away if they went with Atkins, because no write-in candidate ever won. It left Lee open to the charge that he was telling people how to vote, but he says he was trying to persuade them, not tell them.

"This is America. You vote how you want. If I could tell people how to vote, I'd be governor," Lee said.