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Write-in bid applauded

May 19, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Despite losing the race to become Hagerstown's next mayor, Robert E. Bruchey II this year ran one of the most successful write-in campaigns in memory, local political watchers said Wednesday.

According to a Wednesday count of Tuesday's write-in results, 1,155 voters typed in Bruchey's name, or something resembling it, on electronic touch-screen voting machines.

The vote count still is not final until absentee ballots are counted today, but with Wednesday's totals, Bruchey had received 28 percent of the votes cast for mayor.

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"I was surprised that it was that many," said Richard Hugg, Washington County Republican Central Committee chairman.

The incumbent, Democrat William M. Breichner, received nearly 33 percent of the vote and lost. The winner, Richard "Dick" F. Trump, received slightly more than 39 percent of the vote.

On Wednesday, officials double-checked poll totals from Tuesday and verified the write-in counts. Absentee ballots remain to be counted, but are scheduled to be reviewed today.

Bruchey, a Republican, was the only candidate who had advised election authorities of his intent to run a write-in campaign. Candidates must file paperwork with the election board for write-in votes to be considered.

Officials said there originally were 1,160 write-in votes in the mayor's race, however, one was dismissed as a double-counting error. Four other write-in votes also were dismissed.

Those included a vote for "ALESHA PARSONS," one for "BO," one for "TRUMP," and one for "WILLIE MAYS."

Election officials accepted several variations of Bruchey's name, including "BBBBBBBBOBBOCHY," "BOBBR7CHEY," "BURELY," "BUSHY," and simply, "BRU."

Another 37 write-in votes were cast for the City Council race, although there were no official write-in candidates in that contest.

Bruchey on Wednesday said in addition to personally carting people to the polls - he said he believed he might have taken 10 in a van - he and supporters did a lot of work leading up to Tuesday.

"It was a good turnout, period," Bruchey said.

He credited local union members - who are largely Democrats - on door-to-door campaign work, and said the message he had was simple.

"Talk to people, tell them how important this election was, come out and vote," Bruchey said.

Bruchey had posted instructions on how to cast a write-in vote on his Web site and had run advertisements as well. He said he didn't believe the physical act of casting a write-in vote hurt his chances too badly.

"Basically, it's just two more steps than they were used to," Bruchey said, but he also said he believed that if his name had been on the ballot, even as an independent candidate, the outcome would have been different.

Neither Hugg nor his Democratic counterpart, county Democratic Central Committee Chairman Rick Hemphill, said they were sure what all the motives were to vote for Bruchey, but they both agreed it had an effect on the race.

Hemphill said he's certain that Bruchey's high vote count took votes that would have been Breichner's.

"Statistically, they become spoilers," Hemphill said of write-in candidates. "It's extremely rare that a write-in campaign will be successful."

Nevertheless, Bruchey's campaign was "fairly successful," Hemphill said, attributing the achievement to a faithful base of voters.

This year was Bruchey's third candidacy for the city's mayor. He won in 1997 and lost to Breichner in 2001.

Hugg said he's less certain about where Bruchey's votes would have gone, but agrees that Bruchey had a leg up from his prior time in office.

"Bob was a very familiar public face and figure here, having been mayor before, and I'm sure that had a lot to do with the number of votes he got," Hugg said. "He had very, very high name recognition. That's as important as any one single factor."

Hugg said the way the votes played out will continue to be a topic of conversation, although he didn't expect too many more close calls with write-in candidates.

"We'll have an interesting time thinking and talking about this election," Hugg said. "I think this is an aberration."

Bruchey said despite his loss, he would encourage others to run write-in campaigns, especially if the candidates felt they had bipartisan support as he felt he did. He said after the primary loss, he received calls from hundreds of people, including Democrats, who said they didn't feel they had a good choice in the general election.

"I once said that the two-party system was the downfall of democracy ... It's important that people be able to pick the most-qualified candidate," Bruchey said. "I don't know if this happened this time or not. I guess we'll see."

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