Thursday, October 20, 2016

Write-in for president? Not so fast -- Oct. 20, 2016 column


You say you can’t stand voting for the presidential candidates on the ballot, so you’re going to write in Mickey Mouse, your own name -- or mine? Don’t. Really.  

Yes, several prominent Republicans say they will write in GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence for president because they can’t abide Donald Trump. They include Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he might write in the name of his buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

The urge to protest the presidential choice is strong, but a write-in could be wrong. You might as well tear your ballot into tiny pieces and swallow them as write in someone’s name, even Pence or Bernie Sanders -- unless you do your homework.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, won a write-in campaign for re-election in 2010 after losing the GOP primary, but no write-in presidential candidate has ever won a single state.

Votes for a third party or write-in candidate could tip close states to one candidate or the other, however. Hillary Clinton finally called on Al Gore to make the point.

“Your vote really, really, really counts. A lot. You can consider me as an Exhibit A of that truth,” Gore said at a Clinton rally in Miami Oct. 11.

In the 2000 presidential election, Gore came within a whisker of winning Florida’s popular vote and the White House. Many Democrats still blame Ralph Nader for Gore’s loss.

It’s worth reviewing this bit of ancient history. In the official Florida tally, George W. Bush beat Gore by 537 votes – and Nader got 97,488 votes.

Nader was on the ballot as the Green Party presidential candidate, so his votes counted. Each state sets its own election rules, though, and many states are unfriendly to write-ins.

In 34 states, including Virginia, write-in presidential candidates must file papers with the state before the election. Otherwise their votes don’t count.

A write-in presidential candidate in Virginia needs to submit to the state a list of 13 electors at least 10 days before Election Day. Alabama does not require advanced paperwork, but Tennessee does.

In Florida, write-in presidential candidates must file an oath with the state in order to have a blank space provided for their names to be written in on the general election ballot.

A write-in presidential candidate in Florida must file the form and a list of electors “at any time after the 57th day, but before noon of the 49th day, prior to the date of the primary election in the year in which a presidential election is held,” according to Florida law.

Got that?

Only seven states allow voters to write in whomever they please for president, and nine states don’t allow presidential write-in votes at all.

Presidential candidates also must file with the Federal Election Commission. So far, more than 1,800 individuals have filed paperwork as presidential candidates with the FEC.

Clinton, Trump and Libertarian Gary Johnson are on ballots in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is on the ballot in 44 states and D.C., and she has qualified as a write-in in three other states. 

Independent Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University, insists he has a shot largely as a write-in candidate at the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House.

On the ballot in only two states, Kotlikoff says by Election Day he will be registered as a write-in in all but one of the states that require certification.  

Independent Evan McMullin, a conservative who made news when a poll in usually red-state Utah put him in a tight race with Trump and Clinton, told NPR Sunday he is on the ballot in 11 states and will be on the ballot or certified as a write-in in 43 to 45 states by Election Day.

It’s totally understandable that voters appalled by Clinton and Trump would want to protest by writing in someone else’s name. The smart thing to do first: Check with your local election office whether a write-in vote for president will be tallied.

Make sure “your vote really, really, really counts.”

©2016 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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