Could a write-in become governor?
This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
As Vermonters prepare to vote in Tuesday’s primaries, two candidates generating the most excitement for statewide offices aren’t even on the ballot. Yet in independent-minded Vermont, they could actually win.
On the Republican front, major buzz is developing around Dan Feliciano, a Libertarian from Essex who is seeking to become the Republican nominee for governor as a write-in candidate. On the Democratic side, Progressive stalwart Dean Corren aims to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for lieutenant governor. The two hope for a chance to defeat popular incumbents in November.
After speaking out against Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single-payer agenda, Feliciano became an overnight social media sensation. The Libertarian generated a large following on Facebook and Twitter, and he eventually earned national attention at The Blaze. He has received solid coverage by the Burlington Free Press, and he helped his own cause by attending a GOP boat cruise uninvited and winning a debate sponsored by the Essex Republicans.
“I can’t believe the amount of support people are giving me across party lines, just based on issues. You always hear people vote on issues, and you wonder about that. I believe it now,” Feliciano told Vermont Watchdog.
“With so much at stake, with the potential implementation in 2017 of single payer, people on both sides (are paying close attention). … I’ve had Democrats come to me and say they’re getting an idea of what single-payer is going to cost, and they’re gagging on that thought.”
Originally contented to run for governor as a third-party Libertarian candidate, Feliciano received multiple requests to run in the primary as a write-in Republican. Since then, rank-and-file GOPers upset with the party’s offical endorsement of soft-spoken moderate Scott Milne have rallied behind Feliciano, mostly because of his sharp criticism of single-payer and skyrocketing taxes.
“To me single-payer is the single biggest job-destroying thing that’s going to happen. It’s going to drive taxes through the roof. So I said I have to step into this game if no one is going to stand up,” Feliciano said.
Perhaps only in Vermont could write-in candidates expect to have a shot at winning statewide office.
“Vermont is not a state that’s defined by party; Vermont is a state defined by personality,” Garrison Nelson, political science professor at The University of Vermont, told Vermont Watchdog.
“We have open primaries — (there’s) no party registration. So anybody can vote in anybody’s primary … this fuels the possibility for third-party success.”
Since cross-voting is allowed in Vermont, voters are free to submit another party’s ballot — but they can only submit one ballot.
According to Nelson, the biggest challenge write-ins face in Vermont is name recognition. While Corren is known for having served as a state representative in the 1990s, Feliciano’s name recognition has grown by talking tough on the stump and going viral online.
Although Feliciano has not held public office, his public-sector experience includes positions with the U.S. Navy, the State of Ohio, the city of Detroit and the National Guard Bureau. His health-care background includes management positions at the Medical College of Virginia, Cigna and Aetna.
“I’ve lived at the crossroads of finance, technology, operations and health care. And that’s what people are really gravitating toward. They say here’s a guy who has full spectrum of understanding of health care, from payer to provider to health care IT,” Feliciano said.
Will Senning, director of elections at the Office of Secretary of State, said Vermont does not have any filing or notice requirements of any kind to be a write-in candidate. As a result, candidates simply need to ask voters to write their names in on the ballot in the write-in space and fill in the oval next to the write-in line.
Asked which state or local races have the most write-in success stories, Senning replied that is was “more common in local elections and justice of the peace races.” He added that it “gets more and more rare as you move up the ballot through the other races, and is least common at the statewide level.”
To win a primary as a write-in candidate, individuals not only need to earn the most votes among all party candidates, but they also need to clear a minimum threshold: one-half of the number of votes required of the formal petition process.
For statewide races, petitioners seeking a place on the ballot must collect 500 signatures. A one-half minimum means write-in candidates like Feliciano and Corren, must get at least 250 votes on Election Day. To win, they must also earn the highest vote tally among all challengers. Corren is assured success, as he is running unopposed. Feliciano has to defeat Republican challengers Emily Peyton, Steve Barry and Scott Milne.
In a midterm election, turnout is a key indicator of success. Feliciano thinks turnout will be low.
“This primary we’re expecting a low turnout. So, if I get about 5,000 votes, I think I can win this write-in campaign.”
Feliciano also pointed to Vermont’s trans-partisan tendencies as reason for hope.
“Vermonters have that independent spirit. Look at how much Bernie Sanders wins by in this state, and all because he’s got conviction and people know where he stands. Many GOPers support him even though he’s basically a socialist.”
Professor Nelson admits he scribbles down names of write-in candidates from time to time.
“Have I written in candidates’ names? Why yes. Because I dislike Howard Dean, I wrote in the name (Chief) Homer St. Francis, who was the head of the Abenaki up in Franklin County.”
He believes write-ins have a steep uphill climb, however.
“How many people are going to take time to write in a name? Asking people to write in your name on the ballot is a tough thing to do. Voting is a privilege that people do not always exercise, and they sure do not take as much time to vote as they should,” he said.