So you're going to write in a candidate? Your vote might not count

Make sure you check state-specific rules to determine what's allowed


For some people, this year’s upcoming presidential election is harder than usual to swallow. The ballot offers two nominees who are historically unpopular and polarizing — so maybe the idea has crossed your mind: Perhaps this is the time to go with a third-party candidate, or perhaps write someone in.

Let’s pause right there.

The issue of write-in candidates: This is where things get tricky. Did you know that depending on where you live, you might not even have the option? So you’ll want to think twice about penciling in a vote for Bernie Sanders or Ted Cruz. It’s definitely a way to voice your disappointment, but not if no one’s listening.

After all, you want to make sure your vote counts, right?

Here’s the deal. In eight states, you don’t even have the option to write in a candidate for president: Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and South Carolina. Mississippi almost always discounts them.

In seven other states, you can write in whomever you’d like, and your vote is counted automatically: Alabama, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Although we don’t recommend writing in Mickey Mouse. (And yes, Mickey actually receives a good collection of votes every year, according to officials). ... Why bother writing in anyone at all?

Already, as you can see, writing in a candidate isn’t always as easy as it sounds due to state laws restricting ballot access. And that’s important to keep in mind — especially in an election year where as many as three Republican senators have said they plan on writing in GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence.

So it all comes down to this. If your state wasn’t named on either of those two lists, you can vote for a write-in candidate — only if that person has registered as one. That means prior filing with state elections officials is required. A candidate must register or submit some form of affidavit. The paperwork varies by state, is often labor intensive and sometimes involves a fee.

Consider former CIA agent Evan McMullin, whose presidential campaign is catching on in places like his home state of Utah. The Independent candidate positions himself as a conservative alternative to Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

McMullin is listed on the ballot in 11 states. Everywhere else, he encourages people to vote for him as a write-in candidate. McMullin’s website offers instructions on how voters can do just that.

“We either already have, or expect to have very soon, official write-in status in 32 states,” the site says. “If you live in one of these states, please follow any instructions on the ballot or posted at the polling place regarding how to properly cast your write-in vote. If you have any questions at all while casting your vote, you can ask the election supervisor at your polling location.”

Most states will honor the "intent of the voter" and forgive minor spelling errors, McMullin said.

Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, another Independent, is on the ballots in 20 states.

Of course, Clinton and Trump are listed everywhere, along with Libertarian Gary Johnson. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is on the ballot in all but six states, but she’s available as a write-in candidate in three of those.

California has an interesting situation: even though Sanders is not running for president, after losing the nomination to Clinton, he’s still considered an official write-in candidate. In the Golden State, all you need is 55 people to sign a petition for a nominee, and the nominee doesn’t even have to agree. But in this case, people collected the signatures and he’s now available to be written in. For the record, Sanders has encouraged his supporters to back Clinton.

So, as for some final takeaways, we’ll leave you with these: If you’re going to take the time to head to the polls and cast a ballot, you might as well choose someone who is actually eligible to receive your vote. (Meaning, no writing in your dad’s name, or someone who hasn’t filled out the necessary paperwork, no matter how disgruntled you are with the candidates or the system). It doesn’t exactly send a message if you have that part of your ballot disqualified.

And even if a write-in candidate won the popular vote (however unlikely), his or her votes wouldn’t count at all if that candidate hadn’t completed the necessary registration.

Finally, no write-in candidate has ever become president in the United States. But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen someday.

Now get to the polls.

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