Politician fears obscurity without moniker Bill would allow nickname on ballot

January 27, 1993|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

You can call him Stokes. Or, in a pinch, you can call him Kolodziejski. Just don't call him plain old Charles.

If you do, no one will know who you are talking about, says Del. Charles W. Kolodziejski, known as "Stokes" since childhood. And that could cost him votes.

In fact, Mr. Kolodziejski says it already has -- twice. Now, he wants the General Assembly to pass a new law allowing politicians to use their nicknames on the ballot.

"I've had constituents come up to me and say they looked for my name on the ballot but couldn't find it," said Mr. Kolodziejski, a Carvel Beach Democrat who won his seat in 1986 and 1990 by slim margins. "It happens so often it's frustrating that I can't get [the nickname] on the ballot."

Mr. Kolodziejski, dubbed "Stokes" for his stovepipe knickers, is not the first politician -- many of whom consider their name to be their stock in trade -- to plead a case for nicknames.

Rebecca Wicklund, of the state Administrative Board of Election Laws, said candidates frequently ask if they can use a nickname or a shortened version of their given name "because that's they way they are known in the community."

But a nickname will only make it on the ballot if the candidate uses it "exclusively, consistently and nonfraudulently" in day-to-day life, Ms. Wicklund said. The candidate would have to use the nickname on bank checks, income tax returns and driver's license to qualify, she added.

Many politicians have gone to court to have their names legally changed, but even that does not always work.

Former Attorney General Francis B. Burch sued the state administrator of elections to place his nickname on the ballot during the 1978 gubernatorial race. He even had his name legally altered to include "Bill" in parentheses.

Still, then-State Administrator Willard A. Morris refused to put it on the ballot. Mr. Morris said parentheses indicated a nickname and nicknames are definitely not allowed. Ultimately, Mr. Burch dropped out of the race.

Del. Tyras S. "Bunk" Athey, whose grandfather called him "Bunkie" after a newspaper comic strip character, said he was surprised his nickname would not appear on the ballot when he first ran for delegate 27 years ago.

"I don't see where using nicknames would cause that great a problem," said Mr. Athey, a Jessup Democrat and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. "There aren't a lot of people it would affect, but it would certainly help Stokes and myself."

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. disagrees. Although Mr. Miller had a court legally change his name to include "Mike" in 1970, he said he does not believe placing nicknames on the ballot would be appropriate.

Mr. Miller said his family always called him "Mike" to differentiate him from his father. So when he first ran for office in 1970, it made sense that he use Mike on the ballot, he said.

But, "It would be inappropriate for 'Magic' or 'Big Man' or 'Shorty' to appear on the ballot," said Mr. Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat. "Nicknames could be used to appeal to [voters] for reasons which have nothing to do with their qualifications."

If a lesser-known candidate adopts a nickname to sound like someone prominent, "It could lead to confusion and abuse," Mr. Miller said.

State election officials could only guess yesterday why the rule barring nicknames was adopted.

Echoing Mr. Miller's concerns about abuses, they added that sometimes a nickname simply will not fit on a ballot.

"The problem with using a name like Robert 'Bucky' Bimbo is we have only so much space under the lever" on the voting machine, said Marvin Meyn, deputy administrator of state elections.

Mr. Kolodziejski said abuses could be avoided if candidates are required to show proof that they are generally known by their nicknames.

He's hoping that the bill passes.

"I don't want to have to change my name," Mr. Kolodziejski said.

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