write in counting

Melissa Shaffer, clerical specialist at the Lancaster County office of voter registration, counts write-in votes for Warwick school board in the county offices at 150 N. Queen St. in Lancaster city Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

The president of the Manheim Central school board has lost her race for reelection after a Lancaster County judge ruled Tuesday that a write-in candidate can claim hundreds of votes that misspelled or incompletely spelled her name.

Judge Dennis Reinaker allowed 613 misspellings to be added to write-in candidate Jennifer Walker’s total. As a result, Walker, a Republican, defeated Manheim Central school board President Linda Williams, who cross-filed to run as a Democrat and Republican. Williams received 2,536 votes on Election Day; Walker received 2,719 write-in votes -- including misspellings and incomplete spellings.

Walker said she was thankful for the opportunity to serve on the board. She credited her successful write-in campaign to the fact she is a mother of two young children and that she’s a teacher in another school district.

“I knew that a lot of community members have been feeling like they wanted to support me, … but I wasn’t quite sure we would have enough [votes],” she said.

Historically, write-in candidates are rarely successful. But as parents nationally put school boards under new scrutiny in the past year, some outspoken Lancaster County parents launched write-in campaigns, with several poised to win. 

Williams, who has been on the Manheim Central board for 12 years, said she was up against a well-organized group of parents and that she did not really campaign for re-election. She has always believed the school board should “not be a political entity,” she said.

“I’ve been on the board for 12 years. In those 12 years, we’ve never had anything political or political issues,” Williams added. “I understand they were coming after us, and they did a great job.”

Walker advertised herself alongside the other GOP candidates on the ballot and said she would push more conservative policies, according to her campaign Facebook.

Warwick race still undecided

A separate ruling by Reinaker went against a write-in candidate for the Warwick school board. While he ruled that Emily Zimmerman can collect an additional 1,158 votes with misspellings and incomplete spellings of her name, he declined to allow 139 votes for “Emily Zimmer” to be added to her total. Without those votes, her bid to unseat school board President Michael Landis will fall 91 votes short.

The county Board of Elections can only process the letters that appear inside the write-in box on a ballot. If any letter appears over the edge of that line, the county is required by law to register it exactly as it is written. Candidates can then petition the court to collect the misspellings and incomplete spellings of their names, and it’s up to a judge to decide a voter’s intent.

Eric Winter, an attorney for the write-in candidates, said he will file a petition Thursday asking Reinaker to reconsider his decision in Zimmerman’s case. 

“Our intent is to have all electors have their votes counted, and the best way to do it is to see whether they intended to vote for ‘Emily Zimmer,’ or vote for ‘Emily Zimmerman’ and it got cut off due to the irregularities of the Lancaster voting system,” Winter said. 

He noted that Berks County allows in-person voters to type in write-in votes with no character limit. Lancaster's system, however, will only allow elections staff to see what letters appear on the write-in line. Zimmerman and Winter argue that in the cases of voters writing "Emily Zimmer," they intended to vote for Zimmerman, but the county's election system cut off the rest of the letters.

In an interview with LNP|LancasterOnline, Reinaker was noncommittal when told of Winter’s plan to come back to court.

"I will always look at something, and will take a look at his petition,” Reinaker said. “I'll be honest, I haven’t granted a lot of motions to reconsider."

But he said he already explained his reasons for accepting and rejecting the write-in votes at issue during the hearing Tuesday. 

“We’re not asking for anything that’s not rightfully ours,” Zimmerman said. “I’m excited for the process to play out. In the climate of elections in this country, it’s good to have some dialogue about integrity and proving that the system does still work, and we need to walk that out.”

Zimmerman didn’t launch her write-in campaign until mid-September, according to her Facebook page. She presented herself as a “true conservative” and campaigned on a promise to give parents a greater say in how their children are educated.

Solanco and Quarryville

In Solanco, write-in candidate Justin Wimer beat school board president Paul Plechner to represent Solanco’s Region I on the school board. Wimer did not need to petition to add any of the potential misspellings of his name; he received 963 write-in votes to Plechner’s 754 votes.

Reinaker will hold a hearing Thursday for write-in candidate Cheryl Bowman, who ran for the Quarryville Borough council. Current results show a tie for the final two of four positions –  James Kreider and Rick Aument each received 246 votes. If write-in candidate Bowman is successful in petitioning the court to count misspellings of her name, she could wind up with about 260 votes. A Bowman victory would result in Aument and Kreider drawing lots for the remaining council seat, the remedy prescribed by Pennsylvania election law.

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