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.