Sorry — You Can’t Write-In a Candidate for San Diego City Races

Author: Hoa Quach
Created: 06 October, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
2 min read

For the first time in San Diego history, voters will only have the option of electing a Democrat in a few city races, including mayor. 

The mayor’s race pits Democrat Barbara Bry against Democrat Todd Gloria in the November runoff. Republican Scott Sherman failed to secure enough votes during the primary to be a part of the top two candidates for mayor. Four other city races feature two Democrats. 

With only a Democrat as an option for mayor, voters may be considering writing in a candidate. However, that isn’t an option in the city of San Diego. In fact, you can’t write in any candidates for any San Diego city races in the general election. 

San Diego’s City Charter was amended years ago following the 2004 mayhem when more than 150,000 voters wrote in former San Diego Councilmember Donna Frye for mayor. The court upheld the election that led to former Mayor Dick Murphy’s second term in office. 

Following that election, a spotlight was shined on the discrepancy between the city’s municipal code and City Charter. A 2004 article in The Daily Transcript by Scott Lewis noted, “While the charter appears to expressly limit the candidates for a general election to the two top finishers of a primary election, the city's governing laws have evolved over time and now allow write-in candidates for any city election.”

The City Charter was amended to only permit write-in candidates in district primary elections, citywide primary elections, primary special elections, recall elections and removal elections. Write-in candidates are not permitted in district general elections, citywide general elections or run-off special elections. 

For Voice of San Diego, Andrew Donohue wrote, “The idea behind outlawing the write-in is simple: the voters have already selected their top two candidates in the primary here. Allowing more candidates saps much of the power and purpose from the primary election, an expensive and involved deal for local government.” 

However, you may be able to write in a candidate in races outside of the city of San Diego. San Diego County Registrar Michael Vu said, "As required by law, we provide a list of the qualified list of write-in candidates at all polling places.  Additionally, we provide instructions on where to write-in a name.  It’s incumbent on the write-in candidate to campaign that he/she is running as a write-in candidate, so voters know they are qualified write-in candidate.  As you may know, write-in candidates missed the window for them to have their name printed on the ballot."

But, if you were thinking about writing in a candidate for a city of San Diego race this November — sorry, you can’t. 

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