The Fenty Write-in: A Democratic Success Story
This letter is in response to Gary Tischler’s editorial of November 3rd, “Congrats to Gray: Election Day and Beyond.” As a Georgetowner myself, and as the founder of the Facebook page Mr. Tischler referenced, “Run, Fenty, Run”, which helped jumpstart the write-in campaign, I thought it would make sense to address some of the points Mr. Tischler made regarding that effort.
Overall, there are a lot of good points made in the piece, and we too have joined in congratulating Mayor-Elect Gray on his November 2nd victory. We’ve posted it right on the page, and even offered Gray use of the page to reach our supporters.
My only quarrel with Mr. Tischler’s piece was with the section apparently ghost-written by George Orwell: “It is a peculiarly undemocratic approach that says: We won’t accept the election results that we don’t like and we’re going to try and change them.”
It’s hard to know where to begin with this sentence. First, when this was written (as Mr. Tischler notes), the election for mayor hadn’t actually happened yet. The September election was a primary to choose party nominees. The November 2nd election was when the mayor was chosen. That’s why they called it an “election.” Call me old fashioned, call me sentimental, but I kind of like the quirky American tradition of waiting for the actual vote before declaring a winner.
The truly confusing part, however, is the claim that this effort was somehow “undemocratic.” Which part was undemocratic? The part where we tried to get more votes in the actual election? The part where we tried to run a campaign for our preferred choice for mayor? The part where volunteers stood out for 10, 12, 14 hours or more, trying to convince other voters to consider writing him in as well?
Now, in fairness, I was out of town for a few days, so I apologize if I missed the part where write-in supporters rolled out the tanks and declared a coup. And if they made Fenty “Generalissimo for life” in my absence, well, my bad.
But otherwise, it’s hard to see how this was anything but profoundly democratic. A group of grassroots supporters rallied behind their preferred candidate, and, with almost no budget, miraculously convinced 23% of voters to write in the name of that candidate. No, Fenty wasn’t on the ballot, and wasn’t running. But that’s the whole point of having a write in. If a voter thinks the best choice for that office is not on the ballot, he or she writes in the person they think is best, even if that person would need to be “drafted” to accept the office. The vast majority of people written in on Election Day are in fact not running.
Was it a long shot? Absolutely. Was it a pain in the neck for Mayor-elect Gray, and even Mayor Fenty himself? Almost certainly. Was it undemocratic? Well, since when is democracy “undemocratic?”