Can a write-in candidate win the 2016 presidential election?


Once only the realm of Mickey Mouse, Snoopy or the cat who has been mayor of a town in Alaska for the past 15 years, the write-in vote is fast becoming the hippest civics expression on the block.

With polls showing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton at unpopular poll numbers rarely seen in U.S. presidential elections, the search for an alternative is at a fever-pitch.

One attractive option is the write-in candidate — at least it is if Google searches are to be believed.

Online searches for the term “write-in” candidate set a record last week (a 2,800 percent increase over a record high for the search term set in 2004). According to Google Trends, the greatest number of searches came in states that are traditionally Republican and Democratic strongholds, not, as you may think, from swing states.

While it can be fun to write in the name of your favorite Kardashian, or your aunt, Edna, it doesn’t really advance the cause of democracy.

Here’s a quick look at what it takes for a write-in vote to count and why it’s not likely to change the political landscape this year.

What is a write-in vote?

A write-in vote happens when a voter writes-in the name of a person they wish to vote for instead of choosing a candidate whose name appears on the ballot. This type of vote in a presidential election is allowed in some form in 43 states.

If I want to vote this way, may I write in any name?

Sure you can. But, just a warning, if you are going with Darth Vader this election cycle, your victory party could be poorly attended.

The problem with writing in Darth Vader, other than the fact that he is a fictional character, is that he has not registered as a write-in candidate.

Wait. What? You have to register to be a write-in candidate?

In 35 states you do. And, in most of those states, the cutoff date to fill out paperwork or pay a fee has passed.

This is America, and I want vote for Darth Vader and have it count, what can I do?

You can live in one of eight states — Alabama, Delaware, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Wyoming — that allow voters to write-in any name they wish.

Any states that do not allow write-in votes?

Yes, there are seven states that do not allow write-in votes, or do so under very strict circumstances (for example, the death of a candidate who is already on the ballot). Those state are: Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Has any president ever been elected this way?

No, no one has been elected president as a write-in candidate, but a sitting U.S. senator was elected that way. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) lost the Republican primary in her state in 2010, but won the Senate seat in the general election through a write-in candidacy.

Let’s imagine the write-in candidate wins the popular vote for president, what then?

That would be an interesting question; on election day, when we pull the lever (or write in a name), we are not voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, we are voting for a slate of "electors" who are charged with representing our state’s vote when the electoral college meets to elect the president and vice president.

The Constitution of the United States does not dictate for whom the electors must vote, but some states do direct the votes of its electors. The electors generally vote for their party’s nominee when it comes to casting electoral college votes.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Nation & World

Live updates State of the Union 2018: What time, what channel, livestream, protests
Live updates State of the Union 2018: What time, what channel, livestream, protests

Five Democratic members of Congress have said they will not attend President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address set for the end of the month, boycotting the speech, they say, because of an alleged racial slur over immigration by the president. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), announced Monday she will not attend the speech. Four other Democrats...
Robert Mueller subpoenas Steve Bannon in Russia probe
Robert Mueller subpoenas Steve Bannon in Russia probe

Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, to testify before a grand jury as part of the ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to the Trump campaign, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Danica Patrick confirms she’s dating Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Danica Patrick confirms she’s dating Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Danica Patrick is dating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The NASCAR driver confirmed the two were an item to The Associated Press Monday. “Yes, Aaron and I are dating,” she said.  “Entertainment Tonight” reported that rumors were swirling at the start of the new year that Patrick, 35, was dating Rodgers...
Warning: Travelers through Chicago O’Hare International Airport may have been exposed to measles
Warning: Travelers through Chicago O’Hare International Airport may have been exposed to measles

Anyone who traveled through Chicago O’Hare International Airport earlier this month may want to check for signs of measles. The Illinois Department of Health issued an alert that a passenger on board an international flight that landed on Jan. 10 tested positive for the disease. The department has not released what flights the person was on,...
Family: 6-year-old girl hallucinates, tries to jump out window after taking flu medication
Family: 6-year-old girl hallucinates, tries to jump out window after taking flu medication

A Texas girl suffered hallucinations and tried to jump out a second-floor window after she took Tamiflu to fight off a flu diagnosis, family members told KTVT Friday. The family, who was not identified, told KTVT the girl also ran away from school and might have tried to hurt herself after taking Tamiflu. “The second-story window was open...
More Stories