As Joseph Dunkle filled out his absentee ballot Friday morning, he asked a poll worker if there were any write-in candidates for the races in his district and how to spell their names.
Dunkle believed poll workers had been trained to provide write-in candidates' names to voters, so he was surprised when the worker told him she wasn't sure.
"It absolutely was part of my understanding that one of the benefits of officially notifying the elections board I'm running as a write-in is that the poll workers get trained on who the candidates are and their names," he said Friday.
Dunkle and fellow write-in candidate Lundy Baker are vying for the Beaufort County Board of Education's District 4 seat representing Port Royal and parts of Beaufort. A write-in will almost certainly win the seat because no other candidate entered the race to replace outgoing school board member Jim Beckert in time to get listed on the ballot.
Beaufort County elections director Marie Smalls said write-in candidates get benefits from notifying the elections board ahead of time, as Dunkle asserts.
But training poll workers to spell the candidates' names is not one of them, she added.
Official notification by write-in candidates, which is not required, helps the elections office know to look for declared write-ins' names when counting votes, Smalls said. It also ensures workers are trained to walk voters through casting a ballot for a write-in, although workers will not provide voters with the names.
"If we get that involved in helping a voter make that selection, we may be considered as influencing that voter," she said. "When they come, I hope they come knowing who they want to vote for."
Attempts Friday to reach a S.C. Elections Commission representative were unsuccessful.
Five write-in candidates have emerged for various Beaufort County school board and County Council seats.
Baker said the elections office never told him poll workers would know his name, but his understanding of the process was similar to Dunkle's.
"I notified the elections board for a reason. So was it to count my votes or to help poll workers help voters with my name?" Baker said. "That I don't know."
Baker said that poll workers greeted him as if they knew him last year, when he ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for a Port Royal Town Council seat.
Terry Thomas, a write-in for the District 2 school board seat representing Lady's Island, said poll workers should be trained to provide voters with that information. At the least, he said, they should inform voters as they enter the polls that there are write-ins.
Beaufort County Council write-in candidate Lynn King, for District 8 representing parts of Hilton Head, said she did not hear anything about poll-worker training. Attempts Friday to reach Brian MacDermant, running for the District 4 County Council seat, were unsuccessful.
Smalls said the number of write-in candidates across the county appears to have increased in recent years, but she doesn't expect the training methods for poll workers to change to include knowing those candidates' names.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.
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