Jon Brien's write-in campaign for Dist. 50 asks voters to print his first name on the ballot Nov. 6, but the Board of Canvassers has stated voters will need to write in his full name for it to count.
"You've got to have the last name," for your candidate when you're casting a write-in ballot, said Henri Cyr, Board of Canvassers election clerk.
Brien's billboard sign, mounted on a trailer, was parked next to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church on Park Ave. Thursday afternoon. The sign shows how voters who want to cast their ballot for Jon Brien can do so, but instead of instructing them to use his full name, the sign tells voters to write in "Jon".
"I don't know why he's doing it," Cyr said. He said Brien has been told voters will need to write in his full name for the vote to count for him.
"That's actually not accurate," Brien said.
Shortly after losing the Democratic primary for the Dist. 50 seat by 52 votes to challenger Stephen Casey, Brien announced his write-in candidacy from the lot of Pepin Lumber Sept. 20. At the time, Brien had sample ballots from the last write-in campaign in RI, Doug Gablinske's 2010 run in Bristol. Those samples showed Gablinske's last name written in as a valid vote.
Brien said when he launched the write-in campaign he filed a time-stamped letter with the Board of Canvassers, "...making them exactly aware of what we were doing." But, he said, when his first ads for the campaign started running, he got a call from the Board of Canvassers telling him his full name was required for a write-in vote.
"The standard is clear in Rhode Island," Brien said, "It comes down to voter intent. It has to be reasonably ascertainable who the vote is for."
If a voter writes in his first name, Brien said, which has an unusual spelling unlikely to be confused with someone else, they're obviously voting for him. Brien said he's checked with the RI Board of Elections, and he's confident write in votes for "Jon" Nov. 6 will hold up as valid.
The last successful write-in campaign in RI was in 1990, according to Ian Donnis's blog, On Politics. Dist. 69 incumbent Mark Dailey failed to get enough votes to get on the ballot, and wound up running a write-in campaign against two other write-in candidates. Dailey won, but Brien's write-in effort faces an additional challenge: Casey is on the ballot.
Casey is on the ballot despite a challenge Brien made claiming his candidacy is invalid under the Hatch Act, which limits political activities of federal employees on and off duty. A ruling Tuesday from the US Office of Special Counsel states Casey's candidacy is valid.
Brien said it's good the Office of Special Counsel made the ruling, eliminating the possibility of a special election, "Which was certainly one of my concerns," he said.
"I'm glad that the issue's been resolved and now lets look at the issues and the real differences between the candidates." Brien said.