City Politician To Wage Write-in Attempt

After failing to turn in the paperwork necessary to appear on the ballot for November’s Cambridge City Council election, five-term incumbent Councillor Marjorie C. Decker is attempting to become the first candidate in recent history to wage a successful write-in campaign.

On Wednesday, Decker, a Cambridge native, sent an e-mail to supporters asking for backing and donations and explaining her sticker campaign, which distributes stickers with her name on them so that voters can affix them to ballots.

In addition to hiring an attorney to ensure that all goes smoothly on and after election day, Decker has worked to raise voter awareness of her campaign by e-mailing supporters with an explanation of her campaign and will soon release a how-to video instructing voters in the correct procedures for casting a write-in ballot.

Decker said she has asked the election commission several questions about the election process, but they have yet to provide her with details about how they will address the unique situation, so her focus will be on reaching voters.

The absence of Decker’s name from the ballot may give challengers a leg up in the election.

Cambridge resident and attorney Silvia P. Glick, who says she is concerned with defending Cambridge’s neighborhoods from overdevelopment, said that she believes that some people who voted for Decker in the past will now switch their votes.

“I think that people should be asking why someone who’s really interested in being elected to the City Council waited until the last day to file her nomination papers, and why is it a task that she assigns to other people?” Glick said.

But other challengers said they would not change their campaign approach.

“Marjorie is a strong opponent, you can’t count her out,” said Council candidate Leland Cheung, a student at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Both Decker and other incumbents acknowledge the difficulty of being elected as a write-in candidate.

“Running a write-in campaign is going to be immensely challenging, especially with Cambridge’s complicated election system,” said Councillor Craig A. Kelley.

Under the City’s single-vote-transfer proportional-representation system, each voter ranks nine candidates for the Council, including write-ins. Candidates who are ranked first on ten percent of ballots are declared elected. Any extra ballots they receive beyond the ten percent quota are redistributed to the candidates marked next in preference on those excess ballots.

The count continues with the elimination of those candidates who received fewer than 50 first place rankings and the redistribution of their ballots to other candidates according to the next preference marked. After each, the candidate with lowest number of votes is eliminated, and ballots are again redistributed. Cambridge is the only city in the country that uses this electoral system.

“Marjorie, though she’s won five elections now, has never reached the [10 percent] quota,” said Robert Winters, editor of the Cambridge Civic Journal, an instructor at the Extension School, and a one-time council candidate.

“She’s always relied upon having second and third—whatever—preferences from other candidates,” he said. “It’s hard to get that if your name is not on the ballot.”

But Decker said she believes that residents are aware of her campaign.

“One of the biggest issues in this campaign season is my write-in campaign,” Decker said, “The feedback I’m getting is that people are aware of it.”

The candidate—who used to read the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq at Council meetings to enter them into the city record—said that her constituency consists of “people who care about issues that affect working families...youth issues...and seniors,” as well as residents of Cambridgeport, where she grew up, and North Cambridge, where she lives now with her husband and newborn child.

Cambridge municipal elections will be held on Tuesday, November 3.

—Staff writer Sarah J. Howland can be reached at showland@fas.harvard.edu.