Former Pickerington Local School District School Board of Education member Clay Lopez will return to the board next year, after being elected as a write-in candidate in the Nov. 7 general election.

According to unofficial final results from the Fairfield County Board of Elections, Lopez won the third seat decided in the election after receiving 1,115 votes (8.7 percent of the total ballots cast).

Lopez will join incumbents Lori Sanders (4,960 votes, 38.5 percent) and Vanessa Niekamp (4,274 votes, 33.2 percent), who won re-election to their seats Nov. 7 on the five-person school board. The terms of board members Keith Kristoff Jr. and Michelle Waterhouse expire Dec. 31, 2019.

Seven candidates -- five of who were running as write-ins -- sought election Nov. 7.

According to unofficial results, results for the other candidates were E. Gayle Sauders, 833 votes (6.5 percent); Nick Derksen, 789 (6.1 percent); David Horton, 597 (4.6 percent); and Mark Kenney with 301 (2.3 percent).

The winner of the third seat wasn’t determined on Election Day, because elections officials were forced to manually count votes for the five write-in candidates.

Lopez, Saunders, Derksen, Horton and Kenney ran as write-ins because all entered the race following the Aug. 9 filing deadline to appear as candidates on the ballot.

They each submitted petitions to run after incumbent board member Cathy Olshefski and would-be challengers Jaclyn Rohaly and Pryestt Strickland were disqualified by the board of elections because their candidate filing information fell short of state guidelines.

Sanders said during her campaign she was seeking a sixth term “because I care about every student here and I know we are doing great things in our schools.”

“People involve themselves in different service organizations,” she said. “Schools are mine. I work in it and I serve the community as a board member.”

The victory for Niekamp, the board’s current president, means she’ll get to serve a second term.

In running for re-election, Niekamp said she would focus enhancing the district’s wellness, mental health and drug and alcohol prevention programs.

She added, “We need to develop a budget that best aligns resources with student achievement goals; by mobilizing key stakeholders, gathering information on academic performance and cost structure, and establishing principles and policies to guide the budget process.”

Lopez will return to the school board after previously being appointed to a seat in 2008 and subsequently winning a full term.

Lopez lost his seat following a recount in the November 2013 election that saw him defeated by Cathy Olshefski by four votes.

“I loved my service as a board member from 2008-13 with the Pickerington Local School District to the community that I call home,” Lopez said on the campaign trail. “I hope to serve once again with the support of the families that also call Pickerington their home.”

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