Write-in votes tend to show up during every election, typically a few stray ballots cast for a now-familiar array of characters including the likes of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.
While last week’s non-partisan municipal election in Mount Airy did produce the usual polling-booth choices made in that vein — also including Batman and Snoopy — the number of write-in votes recorded entered the realm of the unusual.
“We ended up with 99 write-ins for this election,” Surry County Board of Elections Director Susan Jarrell reported after an official recording process.
Ninety-two of those votes were tallied for the North Ward seat on the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners now held by Jon Cawley, who was running unopposed for the third straight time en route to capturing another four-year term.
In contrast, only five write-in votes were registered in a South Ward commissioner’s race between incumbent Steve Yokeley and Todd Harris, a former council member. Just two showed up in mayoral balloting pitting incumbent David Rowe against Ivy Sheppard. Both Yokeley and Rowe were re-elected to new four-year terms.
Despite the relatively large number of write-in ballots cast against Cawley, he still won handily with 995 votes, according to totals reported on Election Night.
Those numbers reflect no organized write-in campaign, which was accompanied by the absence of any announcements regarding such an effort.
However, write-in votes were cast for two people who were supporters of a now-defunct city redevelopment commission which Cawley was critical of during the last municipal election in 2015.
Tom Webb, a member of that group, was the beneficiary of seven write-in ballots, and Jerry Taylor, a pro-redevelopment commission candidate who ran unsuccessfully for the city’s at-large commissioner seat two years ago, received five votes.
Jarrell, the elections director, explained that in order for write-ins to be listed by name on the official results, a person must receive five or more votes and be eligible for the office involved.
“Out of the 99 we only had two individuals that met that criteria (Webb and Taylor),” Jarrell said of the North Ward totals.
Joe Reid, an unsuccessful write-in candidate in 2015, received eight votes this time around and Andrew Barlow got five. “But they were written in the North Ward commissioner’s seat and they do not reside in the North Ward,” Jarrell mentioned.
The write-in votes included a large number of individual names, but since they did not receive more than one or two votes those choices won’t be reflected in final results, according to Jarrell.
Other names written in, based on information supplied by Jarrell, included Anyone Else, five votes; Mickey Mouse, three; Minnie Mouse, one; Batman, one; Snoopy, one; and Tom Joyce, one.
Cawley said Monday that the unusually high number of write-in ballots cast for his seat is hard to explain.
“In a race when there’s no competition, people will try to create it and I guess that’s what we need,” he added of the implications for the democratic process. “Americans like choices.”
There might be some built-in resentment among some in the electorate toward a candidate running unopposed, Cawley agreed, while saying that the actual dynamics regarding what goes through a person’s mind while voting are hard to analyze. “I don’t try to guess why people do what they do when it comes to voting.”
However, Cawley sees the write-in votes — though cast against him — as a positive sign overall.
“I think competition is always good.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.