A write-in candidate is a candidate in an election whose name does not appear on the ballot, but for whom voters may vote nonetheless by writing in the person's name. The system is almost totally confined to elections in the United States. Some U.S. states and local jurisdictions allow a voter to affix a sticker, with the write-in candidate's name, to the ballot in lieu of actually writing in the candidate's name. Write-in candidacies are sometimes a result of a candidate being legally or procedurally ineligible to run under his or her own name or party; write-in candidacies may be permitted where term limits bar an incumbent candidate from being officially nominated for, or being listed on the ballot for, re-election. In some cases, write-in campaigns have been organized to support a candidate who is not personally involved in running; this may be a form of draft campaign.
Write-in candidates rarely win, and sometimes write-in votes are cast for ineligible people or fictional characters. Some jurisdictions require write-in candidates be registered as official candidates before the election. This is standard in elections with a large pool of potential candidates, as there may be multiple candidates with the same name that could be written in.
Many U.S. states and municipalities allow for write-in votes in a partisan primary election where no candidate is listed on the ballot to have the same functional effect as nominating petitions: for example, if there are no Reform Party members on the ballot for state general assembly and a candidate receives more than 200 write-in votes when the primary election is held (or the other number of signatures that were required for ballot access), the candidate will be placed on the ballot on that ballot line for the general election. In most places, this provision is in place for non-partisan elections as well.
Contrast from a blank ballot election system
The term "write-in candidate" is used in elections in which names of candidates or parties are preprinted on a paper ballot or displayed on an electronic voting machine. The term is not generally used in elections in which all ballots are blank and thus all voters must write in the names of their preferred candidates. Blank ballot election systems reduce the cost of printing the ballots, but increase the complexity of casting and counting votes. Such systems are used in Japan, and used in the past in the French Second Republic, and in elections in the Philippines from World War 2 until the 2010 general election. Blank-ballot systems typically require candidates to be nominated in advance.
Historical success of write-in candidates
Generally, write-in candidates can compete in any election within the United States. Typically, write-in candidates have a very small chance of winning, but there have been some strong showings by write-in candidates over the years.
- Herbert Hoover won the 1928 Republican presidential primary in Massachusetts on write-ins, polling 100,279.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt won the 1940 Democratic presidential primary in New Jersey with 34,278 write-ins.
- Thomas Dewey won the 1944 Republican presidential primary in Pennsylvania with 146,706 write-ins.
- Harold Stassen won the 1948 Republican presidential primary in Pennsylvania with 81,242 write-ins.
- Robert A. Taft won the 1952 Republican presidential primary in Nebraska with 79,357 write-ins, Estes Kefauver won the 1952 Democratic presidential primary in Pennsylvania with 93,160 write-ins and Dwight Eisenhower won the 1952 Republican presidential primary in Massachusetts with 254,898 write-ins.
- Dwight Eisenhower won the 1956 Republican presidential primary in Massachusetts with 51,951 write-ins.
- Richard Nixon won the 1960 Republican presidential primary in Massachusetts with 53,164 write-ins and John F. Kennedy won the Democratic Pennsylvania presidential primary with 183,073 write-ins along with the Democratic Massachusetts presidential primary with 91,607 write-ins.
- In the 1964 Republican presidential primary, a write-in campaign organized by supporters of former U.S. Senator and vice presidential nominee Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. won Republican primaries for President in New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, defeating declared candidates Barry Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller, and Margaret Chase Smith.
- In the 1968 Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire, incumbent President Lyndon Johnson did not file, but received write-ins totaling 50% of all Democratic votes cast. Senator Eugene McCarthy, who campaigned actively against Johnson's Vietnam war policies, was on the ballot. He received an impressive 41% of the vote and gained more delegates than the President, who was reportedly "so stunned that he did not run for reelection".
- In the 1992 Democratic presidential primary and the 1992 Republican presidential primary, consumer advocate Ralph Nader ran a write-in campaign during the New Hampshire primary for the presidential nomination of both parties. Declaring himself the "none of the above candidate" and using his Concord Principles as his platform, Nader received 3,054 votes from Democrats and 3,258 votes from Republicans.
- Republican William Knowland was elected in 1946 to the U.S. Senate from California, for a two-month term. The special election for the two-month term featured a November ballot with no names printed on it, and all candidates in that special election were write-in candidates.
- Democrat Strom Thurmond was elected in 1954 to the United States Senate in South Carolina as a write-in candidate, after state Democratic leaders had blocked him from receiving the party's nomination.
- In 2010 incumbent Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski lost the Republican primary to Joe Miller. Following her defeat she ran in the general election as a write-in candidate. Murkowski had filed, and won, a lawsuit requiring election officials to have the list of names of write-in candidates distributed at the polls, and subsequently won the election with a wide enough margin over both Miller, and Democratic Party candidate Scott T. McAdams, to make moot the write-in ballots that had been challenged by Miller.
House of Representatives
- In 1918, Peter F. Tague was elected to the U.S. House as a write-in independent Democrat, defeating the Democratic nominee, John F. Fitzgerald.
- In 1930 Republican Charles F. Curry, Jr. was elected to the House as a write-in from Sacramento, California. His father, Congressman Charles F. Curry Sr., would have been listed on the ballot unopposed but, due to his untimely death, his name was removed and no candidate's name was listed on the ballot.
- In 1958, Democrat Dale Alford was elected as a write-in candidate to the United States House of Representatives in Arkansas. As member of the Little Rock school board, Alford launched his write-in campaign a week before the election because the incumbent, Brooks Hays, was involved in the incident in which president Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce racial integration at Little Rock Central High School. Racial integration was unpopular at the time, and Alford won by approximately 1,200 votes, a 2% margin.
- In 1964 Democrat Gale Schisler was nominated for Congress in Illinois as a write-in candidate when no Democrat filed to run in the primary election. He defeated incumbent Robert McLoskey in the November General Election.
- In November 1980, Republican Joe Skeen was elected to Congress in New Mexico as a write-in candidate, because of a spoiler candidate who also happened to be a write-in. No Republican had filed to run against the incumbent Democrat, Harold L. Runnels, before the close of filing. Runnels died on August 5, 1980, and the Democrats requested a special primary to pick a replacement candidate. The New Mexico Secretary of State allowed the Democrats to have a special primary, but did not allow the Republicans to have a special primary, because they had already gone with no candidate. So Skeen ran as a write-in candidate. After Runnels' widow lost the Democratic special primary, she launched her own write-in candidacy, which split the Democratic vote, taking enough votes from the Democratic nominee to give the election to the Republican, Skeen, who won with a 38% plurality.
- Ron Packard of California finished in second place in the 18-candidate Republican primary to replace the retiring Clair Burgener. Packard lost the primary by 92 votes in 1982, and then mounted a write-in campaign as an independent. He won the election with a 37% plurality against both a Republican and a Democratic candidate. Following the elections, he re-aligned himself as a Republican.
- Democrat Charlie Wilson was the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party for Ohio's 6th congressional district in Ohio to replace Ted Strickland in 2006. Strickland was running for Governor, and had to give up his congressional seat. Wilson, though, did not qualify for the ballot because only 46 of the 96 signatures on his candidacy petition were deemed valid, while 50 valid signatures were required for ballot placement. The Democratic Party continued to support Wilson, and an expensive primary campaign ensued – over $1 million was spent by both parties. Wilson overwhelmingly won the Democratic primary as a write-in candidate on May 2, 2006 against two Democratic candidates whose names were on the ballot, with Wilson collecting 44,367 votes, 67% of the Democratic votes cast. Wilson faced Republican Chuck Blasdel in the general election on November 7, 2006, and won, receiving 61% of the votes.
- Democrat Dave Loebsack entered the 2006 Democratic primary in Iowa's second congressional district as a write-in candidate after failing to get the required number of signatures. He won the primary and in the general election he defeated 15-term incumbent Jim Leach by a 51% to 49% margin.
- Jerry McNerney ran as a write-in candidate in the March 2004 Democratic Primary in California's 11th congressional district. He received 1,667 votes (3% of the votes cast), and, having no opposition (no candidates were listed on the Democratic primary ballot), won the primary. Although he lost the November 2004 general election to Republican Richard Pombo, McNerney ran again in 2006 (as a candidate listed on the ballot) and won the Democratic Primary in June, and then the rematch against Pombo in November.
- Shelley Sekula-Gibbs failed as a write-in candidate in the November 7, 2006 election to represent the 22nd Texas congressional district in the 110th Congress (for the full term commencing January 3, 2007). The seat had been vacant since June 9, 2006, due to the resignation of the then representative Tom DeLay. Therefore, on the same ballot, there were two races: one for the 110th Congress, as well as a race for the unexpired portion of the term during the 109th Congress (until January 3, 2007). Sekula-Gibbs won the race for the unexpired portion of the term during the 109th Congress as a candidate listed on the ballot. She could not be listed on the ballot for the full term because Texas law did not allow a replacement candidate to be listed on the ballot after the winner of the primary (Tom DeLay) has resigned.
- Peter Welch, a Democrat representing Vermont's sole congressional district, became both the Democratic and Republican nominee for the House when he ran for re-election in 2008 and 2016. Because the Republicans did not field any candidate on the primary ballot in those elections, Welch won enough write-in votes to win the Republican nomination.
California's Proposition 14 impact on write-in candidates
In 2010, California voters passed Proposition 14 which set up a new election system for the United States Senate, United States House of Representatives, all statewide offices (governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state controller, attorney general, insurance commissioner, and superintendent of public instruction), California Board of Equalization, and for the California State Legislature. In the system set up by Proposition 14, there are two rounds of voting, and the top two vote-getters for each race in the first round (the primary, normally held in June) advance to a second round (the general election, held in November). Proposition 14 specifically prohibits write-in candidates in the second round, and this prohibition was upheld in a court challenge. Another court challenge to the prohibition on write-in candidates in the second round was filed in July 2014.
With a few exceptions, the practice of recognizing write-in candidates is typically viewed internationally as an American tradition.
- A bizarre incident involving a fictitious write-in candidacy occurred in the small town of Picoazá, Ecuador in 1967. A company ran a series of campaign-themed advertisements for a foot powder called Pulvapies. Some of the slogans used included "Vote for any candidate, but if you want well-being and hygiene, vote for Pulvapies", and "For Mayor: Honorable Pulvapies". The foot powder Pulvapies ended up receiving the most votes in the election.
- In Brazil, until the introduction of electronic voting in 1994, the ballot had no names written for legislative candidates, so many voters would protest by voting on fictional characters or religious figures. In a famous case, the São Paulo city zoo rhinoceros Cacareco got around 100,000 votes in the 1959 elections for the municipal council, more than any candidate. However, those votes were not considered because Brazilian law stipulates that a candidate must be affiliated to a political party to take office.
- Until 2013, write-in candidates were permitted at municipal elections in France for councils of communes with a population of less than 2500.
- Elections in Sweden are open list, with voters placing into the ballot box an envelope containing their choice of either a ballot preprinted with the name of a registered party or else a blank ballot on which they write the name of a party (registered or unregistered) and optionally that of a candidate. A person must consent to being a candidate listed on a preprinted ballot, but there was no such obligation for write-in names until the 2018 general election. In the 2006 municipal elections, the Sweden Democrats (SD) won seats on several councils where they had no nominee or preprinted ballots; most SD voters wrote the party name but no candidate name. The seats were filled by the name most often written, if any, and left empty if no voter wrote in a name. One example was Vårgårda Municipality, where only three of 143 SD voters wrote in names, of which two were for an ineligible non-resident; the winner resigned his seat as he opposed the SD and his sole vote was cast by his father as a joke. In 2010 one Jimmy Åkesson was elected to Staffanstorp Municipality council after a single SD voter wrote his name. The voter apparently intended SD leader Jimmie Åkesson, not resident in Staffanstorp.
- In elections in Austria, writing on a ballot paper does not invalidate a vote provided the voter's preference is clear. In the 1990 legislative election the unpopular SPÖ, worried that voters would not select it on the party-list ballot, advised them to write in the name of Franz Vranitzky, its popular leader. Such ballots would be interpreted as SPÖ votes.
- See, for example, Section 1-4-1101, Colorado Revised Statutes (2008)
- Cox, Karen E.; Schoppa, Leonard J. (2016). "Interaction Effects in Mixed-Member Electoral Systems" (PDF). Comparative Political Studies. 35 (9): 1027–1053 : 1038. doi:10.1177/001041402237505. ISSN 0010-4140.
Japanese voters receive a blank ballot paper and are instructed to write down the name of an SMD candidate after examining a sheet posted on the wall of their voting booth. This list gives the names of all candidates along with the names of the party that submitted the candidate’s name.
- Schaffer, Frederic Charles (2008). The Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform. Cornell University Press. pp. 49, fn. 32. ISBN 9780801441158. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
- Schaffer, Frederic Charles (2016). "Might Cleaning Up Elections Keep People Away from the Polls? Historical and Comparative Perspectives" (PDF). International Political Science Review. 23 (1): 69–84 : 76–77. doi:10.1177/0192512102023001004. ISSN 0192-5121.
- "NH.gov – New Hampshire Almanac – First-in-the-Nation – Highlights". Retrieved April 15, 2016.
Johnson was so stunned that he did not run for reelection.
- Washington Post, "Murkowski appears to make history in Alaska", Debbi Wilgoren, November 3, 2010 (accessed November 3, 2010)
- Official election results for the 2010 primaries. Alaska Division of Elections.
- Joling, Dan (October 28, 2010). "Lisa Murkowski Can Appear On List Of Write-In Candidates, State Supreme Court Rules". Huffington Post.
- Bohrer, Becky (November 18, 2010). "Murkowski becomes 1st write-in senator since '54". Boston Globe. Associated Press.
- Ken Rudin (August 23, 2006). "What Happens If Lieberman Wins". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2006-09-03.
- Johnson, Alan (May 3, 2006). "Wilson wins primary as write-in candidate". The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 2006-06-30.
- "Election Results for the March 2004 Primary" (PDF). California Secretary of State.
- Caygle, Heather (October 7, 2016). "Sanders-loving Vermont lawmaker snags GOP nomination". Politico.
- Hagan Cain, Robyn (Sep 21, 2011). "Court Upholds Prop 14 Bans on Write-In Votes, Unqualified Parties".
- Cadelago, Christopher (Jul 30, 2014). "Lawsuit challenges write-in rules under California's top-two system". Sacramento Bee.
- ABC News. "Donald Duck's a Big Bird in Politics". ABC News. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
- "Livingstone threatens write-in campaign". BBC News. November 11, 1998.
- "Foot Powder Produces Headaches in Ecuador." The New York Times. July 18, 1967. Page 39. Retrieved December 19, 2009.
- David Mikkelson (December 10, 2009). "Foot Powder Ecuador Election Result". snopes. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
- "Foot Powder Wins Election Hands Down." The Washington Post. July 18, 1967 (p. A13).
- Ferreira, Neil. "Cacareco agora é Excelência". O Cruzeiro. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
- P.-YC (22 March 2014). "Élections municipales : tout ce que vous devez savoir avant d'aller dans l'isoloir". SudOuest.fr (in French). Retrieved 6 April 2018.
La loi du 17 mai 2013 a instauré plusieurs changements dans le scrutin municipal ... Dans les communes de plus de 1000 habitants ... il y a désormais interdiction de voter pour un candidat non déclaré. ...[D]ans une commune de moins de 1000 habitants, ... il est désormais interdit de voter pour une personne qui n’est pas candidate.
- "Peut-on voter pour quelqu'un qui n'est pas candidat ?". Le Parisien (in French). 29 February 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2018.
- "Elections Act 157:1997" (PDF). Regeringskansliet. Chapter 6, sections 3 and 5, Chapter 9, section 12, Chapter 16, section 2, No.3. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
- Nardelli, Alberto (11 September 2014). "Swedish elections 2014: seven point guide to the key facts". TheGuardian.com. Retrieved 5 May 2018.; "The examination of ballot papers -". Valmyndigheten. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
- Wikström, Douglas; Barrat, Jordi; Heiberg, Sven; Krimmer, Robert; Schürmann, Carsten (2017). Krimmer, Robert; Volkamer, Melanie; Binder, Nadja Braun; Kersting, Norbert; Pereira, Olivier; Schürmann, Carsten (eds.). How Could Snowden Attack an Election?. Electronic Voting: Second International Joint Conference, E-Vote-ID 2017, Bregenz, Austria, October 24–27, 2017, Proceedings. LNCS (Lecture notes in computer science). 10615. Springer. pp. 280–291 : 290. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-68687-5_17. ISBN 9783319686875. ISSN 0302-9743. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
- "Sverigedemokrat i Vårgårda tvekar". Sveriges Radio (in Swedish). September 27, 2006. Retrieved January 15, 2019.; O'Mahony, Paul (28 September 2006). "Dad's practical joke turns trucker into politician". The Local. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
- Adolfsson, Viktor (25 October 2012). "Jimmy Åkesson kan tvingas representera SD". Nyheter24 (in Swedish). Retrieved 5 May 2018.
- Höbelt, Lothar (2003). Defiant Populist: Jörg Haider and the Politics of Austria. Purdue University Press. p. 68. ISBN 9781557532305. Retrieved 11 May 2018.