Steve Kniffen is Cambria’s non-candidate
October 24, 2012
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
Cambrian Steve Kniffen envisions a grand political experiment which he believes could productively alter the way Americans elect their leaders. And he’s shifting his philosophy into action by throwing his name into the hopper as a write-in candidate for two local offices — and he will actively campaign for neither.
Nevertheless, Kniffen said he fully expects to win both seats — one for the school board, the other for the community services district.
A longtime resident of the little seaside community, Kniffen said his plan would go a long way toward making the electoral process more effective and pleasant for all.
“I think it could work here, because of the small size of this community,” said Kniffen.
In a nutshell, here’s Kniffen’s plan as outlined on his website:
Candidates never ask for votes, but simply share their beliefs and ideas. Incumbents and challengers run as write-in candidates, and no names appear on the ballot. Minimal campaigning occurs during election season. Debates and personal appearances would be emphasized. Minimal public outreach through ads, billboards, mass mailings and commercials would be allowed. Homemade yard signs placed at residences would be encouraged, as well as web site and You Tube postings. Campaign expenditures would be kept to a minimum, and expenditures on campaigns would be matched by an equal contribution to charity.
His plan has its genesis in an effort to keep campaign signs out of public right-of-way areas. From there, it was a small stretch to design a political campaign — well, actually a non-campaign — adopting principles that fly in the face of modern politicking.
It’s a novel approach that would work only if all candidates agreed to cooperate, Kniffen notes. And it is his intention to demonstrate that his different approach to political campaigning will work by winning those two seats.
“We have a broken and corrupt electoral process that does not allow voters to choose the best candidate for political office and forces voters to choose between polished and scripted puppets,” he said. “We are forced to vote for slogans and 30-second advertisements and labels, rather than people who are willing to leave their lives behind to take a turn of service for this country.
“As crazy as it sounds, my plan makes sense here in our little town.”
Kniffen said citizens “need to acknowledge that the political process needs to change, and we need to abandon the two party/two platform system of entrenched ideals. What is required is a more open, level, and varied field of candidates and ideas. Politics should be viewed as public service. Political office was originally envisioned as a public service but has evolved into a profession over time.”
Write-in candidates for political office do not have a great track record of success. A notable exception was Republican William Knowland, who won a 1946 write-in to the U.S. Senate from California for a two-month term. That special election featured a ballot with no names printed on it, and all candidates in that special election were write-in candidates.
California law calls for write- in candidates to file declarations of write-in candidacy and submit nomination sponsor signatures, as well as meet campaign disclosure requirements. They do not pay filing fees. The law also requires a “liberal construction” of write-in voting provisions, and notes that “every registered voter (has) the right to write in the name of any candidate for any public office.”
Kniffen said he realizes his plan “is a bit naive. But does a candidate need the job so much that he or she is willing to do anything to win? That’s why our system is falling apart right now.”
He said he is “probably the only candidate in California who says to voters, ‘Hey, if you don’t like me, I’m gone.’”
The 46-year-old Kniffen has worked at a popular local eatery, the Sea Chest Restaurant, for 28 years.
“I’ve been involved in community affairs all these years,” he said. “I sincerely think I will win both seats. And if I do, I’ll work hard on both.”
There exists another sterling example of a successful write-in candidate. In 1997’s election for mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, Stubbs the Cat won by a landslide by write-in — over the two human candidates. Now Stubbs has been re-elected ever since and has “served” 15 years in office. And according to news accounts, Mayor Stubbs has nearly 3,000 fans on Facebook. That’s about five times the number of people living in his town.