As we go to press, Phil Keith and Linda Kabot are in a neck in neck run-off to secure the Conservative Party line in the upcoming Southampton Town supervisor’s race. This is a write-in campaign and unofficial results show that just a handful of votes will determine who gets the Conservative Party nod.
According to both Kabot and Keith, it’s all coming down to about five or six contested votes — all of which are being contested by the Conservative Party on behalf of Keith.
Contesting write-in votes is a perfectly acceptable practice — parties certainly have the right to do it and we understand the need to dismiss votes in cases where handwriting is unclear or entirely illegible. We’ve lived through the era of hanging chads and we understand the desire to clearly interpret voter intent, but there’s something going on here that we feel is not quite so honorable.
Our problem comes with contesting votes where it’s really quite obvious what the voter intended. Writing a name that is phonetically accurate, but spelled slightly wrong — for example, Kabot spelled as Cabot or Keith spelled as Kiieth, or an extra letter inserted.
In this race, the party has made no secret of the fact that it wants Keith as its candidate, which is why it bothers us that many of the votes being contested — all for Kabot — seem to embody just these sorts of minor misspellings.
By the way, it’s not just the Conservative Party that does this. All political parties at all levels engage in this sort of vote hair splitting. It happens in every election, in every primary, at all levels and it should stop.
Contesting votes where voter intention is clear smacks of the usual political wrangling we see parties engage in each election cycle. But the reason we have these laws is to protect voters and candidates from fraud. To see it used to discount what a voter wants in order to seal a position for a preferred candidate makes us uncomfortable to say the least.
Political parties should have a responsibly to the public — and the public deserves to be heard. Even if their spelling skills leave a bit to be desired when it comes to write-in campaigns.