Write-in voting has its rights and wrongs
You’re disenchanted, disaffected. You’re fed up with the whole process. You can’t bring yourself to pull the lever for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. So you’ve decided to tweak the nose of the establishment —you will write in the name of someone
Maybe you’ve considered writing in someone from, say, the pool of Democratic or Republican primary candidates. Or, one of the vice presidential candidates. Or, your neighbor’s cat.
Election officials have seen it all, including creative choices for leader of the free world — Frank N. Stein, Jim Nasium, and the always popular Seymour Butts.
There are a couple of things you should know.
First of all, the only people you’re punishing by writing in a novelty name or statement (many of which are unfit to print, though you can use your imagination) are the hardworking folks at the Board of Elections, who have to go through these names to get an accurate count and post the numbers on their website. Even in an off-year election, they receive thousands of writein votes. The joke names and statements don’t get counted.
Second, when you vote — write-in or otherwise — you’re really voting for “presidential electors,” the people who represent and have pledged to vote for the candidate at the electoral college. Each state carries a certain number of electoral votes. The candidate who receives the majority of those votes, 270 or more, wins the presidency.
The Pennsylvania Department of State developed an administrative process through which a write-in candidate for president can certify with the commonwealth up to 20 hand-picked names for the office of presidential elector. These are the folks who will represent the candidate at the electoral college.
But the candidate has to submit these names in advance. If he or she has not done that, you’re simply voting for the candidate as one of the 20 presidential electors. In other words, if the candidate hasn’t gone through the proper procedure, you’re not really voting for him for president.
Here endeth the civics lesson.
In Pennsylvania, 35 individuals are on the Department of State’s list of write-in candidates for president. The only possibly familiar candidate — and the only one who has gone through the state’s procedure — is Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent who is waging a national write-in campaign. McMullin has been focusing on Utah, his home state, where polls had him running second behind Trump and ahead of Clinton as recently as last week.
Write-in rules vary from state to state. Most states require a candidate to fill out paperwork or at least notify them. There are a handful of states that don’t allow write-in voting.
Most write-in campaigns barely leave a trace. But there are exceptions.
In 2010, Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska became the first successful write-in candidate for U.S. senate in 50 years.
This presidential election has triggered more interest than normal in the write-in process. According to Google data, online searches of the words “write in” skyrocketed some 2,800 percent during October — a glaring indication that voters are desperate for an alternative.
Write-in votes are, by their very nature, protest votes: a thumbing of the nose at the system, and/or the candidates on the ballot.
And that is certainly your prerogative. But you only get one vote for president, so you might as well make it count. It’s unlikely that Alec Tricity or Amanda Hugginkiss have registered with the state.
Besides, years from now, your children, or their children, might ask you about Election Day 2016, and the part you played in history. “Who did you vote for?” Think about how it will sound if you reply, “Chris P. Bacon.”