The truth about write-in votes: They’re rarely counted

(AP file)
(AP file)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) — As millions of Americans head to the polls for early voting and Election Day, many will snub major party candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, opting to write in names of people who they wish appeared on the ballot.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has the backing of WriteInPaulRyan.org and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., might scrawl in “Lindsey Graham.”

On the Democratic side, scores of millennials will likely vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who dropped out of the race back in July.

Write-in votes are a nice fantasy for the disillusioned voter, sticking it to the mainstream man and raging against the party machines.

Sometimes they even result in a winning candidacy, like Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s, R-Alaska, come-from-behind bid in 2010 after getting primaried by a more conservative opponent.

But where do write-in protest votes typically register on the electoral Richter scale?

Right around 0.0.

When voters write in an unregistered candidate’s name, most states essentially say “thanks for playing,” hand you a sticker and toss that ballot into a basket of ignorables.

It’s not that election officials don’t appreciate outliers’ support for more politically palatable write-ins, they don’t have time to tabulate each and every slip of paper reading “Harambe 2016.”

Most state laws dictate that write-in ballots not be counted the same as those with a bubble filled in next to pre-printed name.

The majority of states — 34 in all — only recognize write-in votes if the listed name belongs to a candidate who pre-registered with state regulators, according to the nonpartisan election encyclopedia Ballotpedia. The deadlines to register have already passed.

Nine states ban write-ins completely.

The remainder of states have laws that allow write-ins, but some, like the District of Columbia, only tally the names if the raw number of write-in votes outnumber traditional ballots.

“If there is a write-in candidate who does win a contest, then we will count those to make sure that the vote count is accurate,“ explained Tamara Robinson, public information officer for the D.C. Board of Elections.

The public has mixed opinions on the varied vote-counting procedures.

“I think ultimately you’re throwing your vote away if you decide to write in a candidate,” D.C. voter Todd Hill said after casting his ballot for a mainstream candidate.

A voter from Maryland supported the simplified tabulation process, reasoning, “You may have a thousand people with a thousand different votes with a thousands different write-ins.”

Other voters demand that every vote be recorded in detail, be it Hillary or Harambe.

“You should be counted no matter what,” argued Graciea Webb of Washington.

“Even if you vote for Betty Boop?” we asked.

“Yeah,” laughed Webb. “If she’s running, we’ll vote for her, too.”

If enough D.C. residents join the insurgent Boop write-in campaign, their votes will be tallied individually.

Until then, they’ll go on the heap of inconsequential and essentially uncounted ballots alongside those bearing the names of Speaker Ryan and Sen. Sanders.

Follow Chance Selaes on Twitter: @ChanceSeales

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