When Hayley Alberts decided to run for the South Weber City Council this summer, she recognized it was a “long shot.”
She had never run for political office. And she knew that because she’d missed the candidate filing deadline, those who wanted to vote for her would have to go through the extra step of writing her name on their ballot in lieu of simply filling in a bubble for one of her opponents.
But Alberts, 34, thought, “Well, heck, let me just go for it; I’ll see what happens,” she said.
And her risk paid off. During last month’s election, she won nearly 1,100 votes and topped the balloting in a five-candidate race for three at-large City Council seats — an almost unheard-of feat for any write-in candidate.
Neither Davis County nor the state elections office tracks the success of political hopefuls whose names didn’t appear on the ballot, so it’s unclear how many have beaten the odds through the years. But Davis County Chief Deputy Clerk Brian McKenzie said it’s conventional wisdom that write-in candidates face much higher hurdles than traditional ones.
“In order to win," he said, “they do have to campaign in a much different way and make sure they get that name recognition out there and encourage people in some way, shape or form to actually write in their name.”
Two other candidates ran as write-ins in November’s elections in Davis County. But both Sunset City Council contender Ryan Furniss and Syracuse City Council hopeful Mike Spencer finished dead last among their opponents.
Alberts credits her win in South Weber to heightened community awareness around political issues and her strong social media presence.
The candidate was prompted to run for city government as a result of a 100% property tax increase and a controversial mixed-use development project that raised alarm bells in the city of fewer than 10,000 residents that Alberts describes as a “small bedroom community.”
“We just had this environment where people were wanting to know what was happening in the city,” she said. “We want to protect it, we’re seeing this massive overdevelopment going around in the cities surrounding us and we had a few things that went through that we didn’t want that it was too late to stop. People were just desperate for information.”
To fill that gap, Alberts — who hasn’t missed a City Council gathering in about six months — has begun putting together and posting a recap of each meeting to a Facebook group of engaged South Weber residents. If someone has a question about something happening in local government, Alberts said she works to find the answer and bring it to her social media platforms and personal blog in an easy-to-understand way.
When she takes office next month, the new councilwoman wants to take a fresh look at zoning ordinances to ensure the city attracts the “right kind of development” in the “right places” and to fight high-density development that doesn’t fit that bill in an effort to preserve South Weber’s small-town feel.
She also wants to see more transparency from the city across multiple platforms — including Facebook, email lists, newsletters and YouTube — for busy people who are interested in understanding what their elected leaders are doing but may not have the time or resources to make it to a meeting.
“I’m a mom of four young kids and I home-school, so getting the time to be able to go to all the meetings and stuff was just really hard” before she began dedicating much of her free time to that cause, she said.
South Weber resident Joylyn Slager Judkins, 34, was in a similar boat. She’d voted in city elections in the past but with five kids hadn’t been able to be as involved until recently, when “a lot of controversial things" — including the mixed-use development that prompted Alberts entry into the race — came to public awareness.
After doing some careful research, Judkins said she decided to write in Alberts’ name on her ballot in part because of the candidate’s efforts to involve the public and push for transparency, and because she liked her work ethic.
“The person who really does their research and doesn’t just do as they’re told from somebody else is my candidate — the one who’s going to make sure things are done properly," Judkins said. "And that’s the No. 1 reason I felt like she had my vote.”
Part of what drove Alberts to research and ultimately run was the influence of her mother, Kim Dixon, who became involved in politics after the farmland behind her house in West Haven was slated for development.
“Initially she was hoping to find somebody to run for council and to better represent the citizens and the neighbors and then eventually decided, ‘Well, I guess it should just be me,’” Alberts said. "So kind of in the same light I realized, hey, we need to make sure people know about this general plan, we need to make sure we’re getting candidates that understand this and represent us and thought, well, ‘Why not it just be me?’”
Though Dixon, who won her seat as a first-time candidate last month, was part of her daughter’s inspiration for running, she says she initially discouraged Alberts from entering the race.
“I said, ‘Oh, Hayley, you don’t want to run as a write-in," Dixon recalled, laughing. "'Are you sure you want to do this? It’s time-consuming.’ I see how much time she spends on it and she is really good at what she does. She is a dedicated researcher and she finds answers, so I think it’s amazing.”
And while neither saw herself as the type to run for political office before jumping in, both Dixon and Alberts urge other interested candidates to run for office — even if the odds seem stacked against them.