Write-in candidates are having a serious moment in Washington County

A write-in candidate who moved to Birchwood Village in 2020 believes she garnered enough votes on Nov. 8 to be the city’s next mayor.

There were 270 write-in votes cast for mayor on Tuesday, according to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office.

Margaret Ford, who launched her write-in campaign at the end of September, believes most of those votes will be counted in her favor when Birchwood Village officials meet to canvass the results on Tuesday night.

The other candidates, James Nelson and Michael McKenzie, received 171 votes and 148 votes, respectively.

“Ninety-nine is the differential right now,” said Mayor Mary Wingfield, who helped run Ford’s campaign. “Our worst nightmare is that someone would write in her name and not fill in the circle next to it, but we got at least 270 circles filled in. Unless people wrote in ‘Mickey Mouse’ 99 times, we’re home free.”

‘A 100-yard dash’

Ford, 62, is a retired attorney who practiced property-tax law. She said she planned to file for mayor after Wingfield announced she was not going to seek re-election, but changed her mind when a family member developed a potential health problem.

When the health issue was resolved, Ford decided to mount a write-in campaign that involved knocking on almost every door in the city.

“It was a 100-yard-dash,” she said. “But after door knocking, I felt like I had already won. It was so much fun hearing everyone’s stories. You don’t know where the conversation is going to go. You hear about their life experience, about living in the village and where they were living beforehand. … Road safety was a big issue – people speeding through the village – and the use of parks. What should we do with our wonderful green spaces? We have a lot of new families who have moved in, and there was a lot of discussion about what we can do with our beautiful parks.”

If elected, Ford said her top priority as mayor would be “to invite all of Birchwood to join in the creative work of building community togetherness.

“I want to bring a respectful and welcoming style of leadership to the Village,” she said. “I believe my experience will benefit the community need for strong fiscal leadership and wetland, shoreline and green space stewardship.”

‘I should have bought a lottery ticket’

Ford is the type of person who shows up when help is needed, said Wingfield, who grew up in Birchwood and has been mayor intermittently for 14 years. “When something needs to be done, she’s there,” she said. “And then when we’re done, she says, ‘What can we do next?’”

Wingfield said she projected that Ford’s campaign would need 270 votes to win. “I said, ‘When we hit that, we’re there,’” she said. “I’m either really smart or really lucky. I should have bought a lottery ticket.”

The biggest hurdle, she said, was proving that Ford was “not only a viable candidate, but a winning candidate. People did not want to throw away their vote.”

Ford grew up in Silver Bay, Minn., and went to St. Catherine University in St. Paul and Notre Dame Law School. She serves on the board of the Itasca Condo Association. She previously served on the board of St. Catherine University Board for 14 years, serving as board president for four years.

She and her husband, David, have two daughters and four grandchildren.

Stillwater Township

Birchwood Village isn’t the only Washington County municipality waiting for write-in votes to be counted. Stillwater Township also has a race that will be determined by write-in.

No one filed to run for the township supervisor Seat 2; 60 write-in votes were cast in that race. The town board expects to canvass the results on Tuesday, said Township Clerk Barb Riehle.

If a candidate who is elected to office declines, it’s considered a vacancy, said Amy Stenftenagel, who oversees elections for Washington County. For a township, the town board can fill the vacancy by appointment of an individual who is eligible to hold office, she said.

Alan Robbins-Fenger, a member of the township’s planning commission, ran unopposed for Seat 1 on the township board.

His election to the town board means there will be another open seat on the planning commission in January, bringing the total number of vacancies to four, Riehle said. The commission is supposed to have nine members, she said.

“It’s just sad,” Riehle said. “We’re just seeing people really back off from community involvement and community response. I’m largely a proponent of community involvement. Stillwater Township is a great place to live, but people are just not wanting to make the commitment and put in the effort.”

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