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School board member Katherine Nakamura is going to court to argue that she should be able to run a write-in campaign and that the unusual structure of the local school board race should be reevaluated.

Nakamura, who represents the northeastern areas of San Diego Unified, was knocked out of the race to keep her own seat in the June primary after finishing third behind teacher Kevin Beiser and businessman Stephen Rosen. Only the top two finishers advance from the primaries, which are held in the smaller subdistricts that each board member represents, to the fall election, in which the whole district votes.

The vote was close: Nakamura came in third by just 271 votes, with 30.18 percent of the vote. Rosen snagged 30.92 percent and Beiser led with 38.73 percent. It is unusual for incumbents to lose their own seats on the school board, let alone be blocked from competing to keep them at all.

Nakamura then began exploring the idea of a write-in-campaign to vie for her seat on the school board, but city officials said a city code barred her from doing so. Though San Diego Unified is separate from the city, its elections fall under city rules.

Now Nakamura is challenging those rules. She argues in a legal filing that the unusual school board election system is outdated and confusing and that barring her from a write-in vote is unconstitutional, “denying 80% of voters the right to vote for the candidate of their choice in either the primary or the general election.” San Diego Unified is unusual because its primaries are local but its general election is at-large.

Nakamura was not the only person making a legal case: She was joined by several parents whose children attend charter schools or who live in other areas of the school district, making it impossible for them to vote for her in the primary. One parent petitioner, Bey-Ling Sha, specifically said she was concerned that “Mrs. Nakamura’s unique perspective as another mother of Asian American children” could be lost.

“Their kids don’t live in my (sub)district, and yet they are profoundly affected by who’s on the Board of Education,” Nakamura said. “They never even got a chance to vote for me.”

Write-in campaigns tend to be a long shot because voters have to make the effort to write down a name. Nakamura said she is willing to take that chance. She is also asking the court to allow voters to use stickers with her name to prevent misspellings of “Nakamura.”

Nakamura will present her petition in court tomorrow morning. The legal deadline for changing the ballot is looming: County Registrar rules say any changes that impact voting must be made by Sept. 3. Confused by the school board election system? Check out San Diego Explained for our rundown on how the process works.

— EMILY ALPERT

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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