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A Superior Court judge said Katherine Nakamura is free to run a write-in-campaign for the San Diego Unified school board, even though she lost a chance to compete for her seat in the primary.

But the judge left open the most important issue: Whether Nakamura would actually be seated on the school board if she wins.

“He’s letting me go forward,” Nakamura said, adding, “He didn’t rule on whether or not I’d be seated. But he also said he didn’t want anyone’s vote to be wasted.”

Nakamura has been in legal limbo because officials say a city code bars candidates from running write-in campaigns in the general election. Even though the school district isn’t run by the city of San Diego, the city charter sets out the rules for school board elections.

San Diego Unified school board candidates compete in a June primary in a smaller subdistrict. Then the top two candidates go to a citywide race. Nakamura, the incumbent, placed a close third in the race in June, trailing middle school math teacher Kevin Beiser and business owner Stephen Rosen.

Nakamura first went to court in August to argue that the election rules were convoluted and unfair. She and a group of supporters argued she should still get a shot at the November race through a write-in campaign.

In his tentative ruling, Judge David Oberholtzer argued that since the County Registrar of Voters already has a spot on the ballot for a write-in candidate and will presumably count the votes, there is nothing stopping Nakamura from continuing her campaign. Nakamura cheered the decision as a victory.

However, “it’s an open question as to whether she would be seated if she won,” said Joseph Cordileone, chief deputy city attorney, who is representing the city clerk and other city entities in the case.

Nakamura and her supporters had pushed to compel the city clerk and school board to ensure she would be seated if she won. Oberholtzer dodged that question, writing in his tentative ruling, “Better wait and see if Nakamura wins before ordering the City government around.”

Oberholtzer also denied their push for the city and the school district to reconsider the confusing system by which the school board is selected and where its election rules fall. Nakamura said she was pleased that her campaign had nonetheless started a continuing dialogue about the issue.

Write-in campaigns are notoriously difficult to win. However, even if she loses, Nakamura could alter the race by taking votes away from Beiser and Rosen.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter:

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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