This time, the pundits underrated the voters

March 7, 2002

By GORDON DILLOW
Orange County Register


Dave and Nancy Teichmiller of Fullerton have a combined total of 40 years experience in working at polling places on Election Day. And they've never encountered anything like what happened on Tuesday.

Throughout the day voters were streaming into the polling place at Beechwood Elementary School and asking about write-in voting. How do I do it? Is there a list of write-in candidates? How do I ensure that my write-in vote will be counted? And so on.

In past elections, only rarely did a voter express an interest in a write-in. But this time, scores of voters were doing it.

"We've never seen anything like it," Dave Teichmiller, 73, told me.

And neither has anybody else. All over Orange County on Tuesday, voters were putting pens to ballots in unprecedented numbers. And in the process they proved that the pundits and "experts" aren't always the sharpest tools in the political shed.

What I'm referring to here is the grass-roots write-in campaign against incumbent Superior Court Judge Ronald Kline, who's facing child-pornography and molestation charges. Kline failed to win re-election in Tuesday's primary and most likely will face a runoff in November against one of the 11 official write-in candidates who opposed him.

(The top two vote-getters in the race won't be known until the write-in ballots are individually counted.)

Of course, before Tuesday just about everyone who follows politics and elections - me included - had decided that such an outcome was pretty much impossible.

Yes, we said, write-in campaigns have been successful in smaller races, and even in one congressional race. But no Orange County write-in campaign has ever garnered the hundreds of thousands of votes that would be required in a countywide election.

After all, we said, it's just too hard to get that many voters' attention and to educate them on how to cast write-in votes. Since Kline's name was the only one on the ballot, we assumed that most voters - who, as we experts all know, are lazy and uninformed -- would automatically punch the box next to Kline's name and give him the majority he needed for re-election.

Well, that shows you how much we pundits know. Because on Tuesday some 234,000 of those allegedly apathetic and uninformed voters wrote in their votes, as opposed to just 115,000 who punched the ballot for Kline. The split was an astonishing 67 to 33 percent.

Even some of the write-in candidates could hardly believe the numbers.

"Every political expert said it couldn't be done," write-in candidate Gay Sandoval told me. "I heard it so often, sometimes even I wondered if it was true."

"The voters were underestimated by the political pundits," write-in candidate John Adams said. "What they've done is historic."

So let's hope we pundits have learned that in politics, nothing is impossible.

And that only a foolish voting "expert" will ever underestimate the people who actually cast the votes.

Gordon Dillow may be reached at (714) 796-7953 or via e-mail at gldillow@aol.com.