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

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION -

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.”

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