Write-in candidate

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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.

A ballot is a device used to cast votes in an election, and may be a piece of paper or a small ball used in secret voting. It was originally a small ball used to record decisions made by voters.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders. Four states use the term commonwealth rather than state in their full official names.

In elections in the United States, political drafts are used to encourage or pressure a certain person to enter a political race, by demonstrating a significant groundswell of support for the candidate. A write-in campaign may also be considered a 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. [1] 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.

A primary election is the process by which voters, either the general public or members of a political party, can indicate their preference for a candidate in an upcoming general election or by-election, thus narrowing the field of candidates.

Reform Party of the United States of America American political party

The Reform Party of the United States of America (RPUSA), generally known as the Reform Party USA or the Reform Party, is a political party in the United States, founded in 1995 by Ross Perot.

Nonpartisanism is a lack of affiliation with, and a lack of bias toward, a political party.

A write-in option may occasionally be available in a multiple-choice referendum; for example in the January 1982 Guamanian status referendum.

A referendum on the territory's status was held in Guam on 30 January 1982. Although the option of becoming a US commonwealth received the most votes, it did not achieve a majority. As a result, a second referendum was held in September with only two options.

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, [2] and used in the past in the French Second Republic, [3] and in elections in the Philippines from World War 2 until the 2010 general election. [4] Blank-ballot systems typically require candidates to be nominated in advance.

The Japanese political process has three types of elections: general elections to the House of Representatives held every four years, elections to the House of Councillors held every three years to choose one-half of its members, and local elections held every four years for offices in prefectures and municipalities. Elections are supervised by Election Administration Commissions at each administrative level under the general direction of the Central Election Management Council, an extraordinary organ attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC). The minimum voting age in Japan's non-compulsory electoral system was reduced from twenty to eighteen years in June 2016. Voters must satisfy a three-month residency requirement before being allowed to cast a ballot.

French Second Republic government of France between 1848-1852

The French Second Republic was a short-lived republican government of France under President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. It lasted from the 1848 Revolution to the 1851 coup by which the president made himself Emperor Napoleon III and initiated the Second Empire. It officially adopted the motto of the First Republic, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. The Second Republic witnessed the tension between the "Social and Democratic Republic" and a Radical form of republicanism, which exploded during the June Days uprising of 1848.

Elections in the Philippines

Philippine elections are of several types. The president, vice-president, and the senators are elected for a six-year term, while the members of the House of Representatives, governors, vice-governors, members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, mayors, vice-mayors, members of the Sangguniang Panlungsod/members of the Sangguniang Bayan, barangay officials, and the members of the Sangguniang Kabataan are elected to serve for a three-year term.

United States

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.

Presidential primaries

Herbert Hoover 31st president of the United States

Herbert Clark Hoover was an American engineer, businessman, and politician who served as the 31st president of the United States from 1929 to 1933. A member of the Republican Party, he held office during the onset of the Great Depression. Prior to serving as president, Hoover led the Commission for Relief in Belgium, served as the director of the U.S. Food Administration, and served as the 3rd U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd president of the United States

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the Democratic party, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. Roosevelt is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in American history, as well as among the most influential figures of the 20th century. Though he has been subject to substantial criticism, he is generally rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Harold Stassen 25th Governor of Minnesota

Harold Edward Stassen was the 25th Governor of Minnesota. He was a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 1948, considered for a time to be the front-runner. He thereafter regularly continued to run for that and other offices, such that his name became most identified with his status as a perennial candidate.


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. [10]
  • 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. [10]
  • 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. [10]
  • 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. [11] 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. [12] 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. [13]

State legislatures

  • Several members of the Alaska House of Representatives were elected as write-in candidates during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly from rural districts in the northern and western portions of the state. Factors in play at the time include the newness of Alaska as a state and the previous absence of electoral politics in many of the rural communities, creating an environment which made it hard to attract candidates to file for office during the official filing period. Most of the areas in question were largely populated by Alaska natives, who held little political power in Alaska at the time. This only began to change following the formation of the Alaska Federation of Natives and the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Known examples of successful write-in candidates include Kenneth A. Garrison and Father Segundo Llorente (1960), Frank R. Ferguson (1972), James H. "Jimmy" Huntington (1974), and Nels A. Anderson, Jr. (1976). The incumbent in Llorente's election, Axel C. Johnson, ran for re-election as a write-in candidate after failing to formally file his candidacy paperwork. Johnson and Llorente, as write-in candidates, both outpolled the one candidate who did appear on the ballot. Ferguson and Anderson were both incumbents who launched their write-in campaigns after being defeated in the primary election. Anderson's main opponent, Joseph McGill, had himself won election to the House in 1970 against a write-in candidate by only 5 votes.
  • Carl Hawkinson of Galesburg, Illinois won the Republican primary for the Illinois Senate from Illinois's 47th District in 1986 as a write-in candidate. He went on to be elected in the general election and served until 2003. Hawkinson defeated another write-in, David Leitch, in the primary. Incumbent State Senator Prescott Bloom died in a home fire after the filing date for the primary had passed.
  • Arizona state senator Don Shooter won the 2010 primary as a write-in and went on to win the general election.
  • After failing to receive the Republican Party's 1990 Wilson Pakula nomination, incumbent and registered Conservative New York State Senator Serphin Maltese won the party's nomination as a write-in candidate. [14]
  • Charlotte Burks won as a Democratic write-in candidate for the Tennessee Senate seat left vacant when the incumbent, her husband Tommy, was assassinated by his opponent, Byron Looper, two weeks before the elections of November 2, 1998. The assassin was the only name on the ballot, so Charlotte ran as a write-in candidate.
  • Winnie Brinks was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2012 after a series of unusual events. In May of that year, State Representative Roy Schmidt – who had previously filed to run for re-election as a Democrat – withdrew from the Democratic primary and re-filed as a Republican. A friend of Schmidt's nephew filed to run as a Democrat, but withdrew two days later amid anger among local Democrats. This left Democrats without a candidate. Brinks ran as a write-in to be the Democratic nominee. She won the primary and was listed on the ballot in the general election, which she also won. Coincidentally, the general election also saw a write-in candidate, Bing Goei, receive significant support. [15]
  • Scott Wagner was elected as an anti-establishment Republican write-in candidate to the Pennsylvania Senate in a March 2014 special election over endorsed Republican nominee Ron Miller and Democrat Linda Small. [16]

Local government

  • Angela Allen was elected Mayor of Tar Heel, North Carolina (population 115) as a write-in candidate in 2003. [17]
  • Julia Allen of Readington, New Jersey won a write-in campaign in the November 2005 elections for the Township Committee, [18] after a candidate accused of corruption had won the primary. [19]
  • Tom Ammiano, President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, entered the race for Mayor of San Francisco as a write-in candidate two weeks before the 1999 general election. He received 25% of the vote, coming in second place and forcing incumbent Mayor Willie Brown into a runoff election, which Brown won by margin of 59% to 40%. In 2001, the campaign was immortalized in the award-winning documentary film See How They Run.
  • John R. Brinkley ran as a write-in candidate for governor of Kansas in 1930. He was motivated at least in part by the state's revocation of his medical license and attempts to shut down his clinic, where he performed alternative medical procedures including transplantation of goat glands into humans. He won 29.5% of the vote in a three-way race. Brinkley's medical and political career are documented in Pope Brock's book Charlatan. [20]
  • Mike Duggan filed petition to run for mayor of Detroit in 2013; however, following a court challenge, Duggan's name was removed from the ballot. Duggan then campaigned as a write-in in the August 2013 primary, with the intent of being one of the top two vote-getters and thus advancing to the general election in November. Duggan received the highest number of votes in the primary, and advanced to the runoff in November. He eventually defeated challenger Sheriff Benny Napoleon and became the Mayor of Detroit. [21]
  • Donna Frye ran as a write-in candidate for Mayor of San Diego in 2004. A controversy erupted when several thousand votes for her were not counted because the voters had failed to fill in the bubble next to the write-in line. Had those votes been counted, she would have won the election. [22]
  • Michael Jarjura was re-elected Mayor of Waterbury, Connecticut in 2005 as a write-in candidate after losing the Democratic party primary to Karen Mulcahy, who used to serve as Waterbury's tax collector before Jarjura fired her in 2004 "for what he claimed was her rude and abusive conduct toward citizens". [23] After spending $100,000 on a general elections write-in campaign, [24] Jarjura received 7,907 votes, enough for a plurality of 39%. [25]
  • James Maher won the mayorship of Baxter Estates, New York on March 15, 2005 as a write-in candidate with 29 votes. Being the only one on the ballot, the incumbent mayor, James Neville, did not campaign, as he did not realize that there was a write-in campaign going on. Neville received only 13 votes. [26]
  • Beverly O'Neil won a third term as Mayor of Long Beach, California as a write-in candidate in 2002. The Long Beach City City Charter has a term limit amendment that says a candidate cannot be on the ballot after two full terms, but does not prevent the person from running as a write-in candidate. [27] She finished first in a seven-candidate primary, but did not receive more than 50% of the vote, forcing a runoff contest. In the runoff, still restricted from the ballot, she got roughly 47% of the vote in a three-way election that included a second write-in candidate. [28]
  • Michael Sessions, an 18-year-old high school senior, won as a write-in candidate for Mayor of Hillsdale, Michigan in 2005. He was too young to qualify for the ballot.
  • In Galesburg, Illinois, an error by the Galesburg Election Commission [29] in late 2010 gave city council candidate Chuck Reynolds the wrong number of signatures he required to be on the ballot for the April 2011 city council election, [30] resulting in him being removed from the ballot when challenged by Incumbent Russell Fleming. [29] [31] Reynolds ran as a write-in vote [32] in the April 2011 election, and lost by 9 votes. [33] [34]
  • Anthony A. Williams, then incumbent Mayor of Washington, D.C. was forced to run as a write-in candidate in the 2002 Democratic primary, because he had too many invalid signatures for his petition. He won the Democratic primary, and went on to win re-election.
  • In the November 8, 2011, election for Commonwealth's Attorney of Richmond County, Virginia, 16-year incumbent Wayne Emery has been certified the winner as a write-in candidate over challenger James Monroe by a margin of 53 votes (2.4%) out of 2,230 votes cast, after his petitions were challenged and his name was removed from the ballot. [35]
  • In the 1997 election for Mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, Stubbs the Cat won over the two human candidates. He was re-elected every mayoral election thereafter, and served until his death on July 2, 2017. [36] [37]
  • Eau Claire County, Wisconsin sheriff Ron Cramer, [38] formerly a sheriff's deputy, won election as Eau Claire County's 47th sheriff, defeating disgraced 10-year incumbent sheriff Richard M. Hewitt (d. 2008) [39] in a write-in campaign hastily organized just weeks before the election in 1996. He has handily won reelection every 4 years since, usually running unopposed. [40]
  • Lynda Neuwirth defeated the lone candidate on the ballot, Joseph DiPasquale, for the Ellicottville, New York village justice position on March 19, 2019; Neuwirth received three votes to DiPasquale's two. [41]


  • Aaron Schock was elected to the District 150 School Board in Peoria, Illinois in 2001 by a write-in vote, after his petitions were challenged and his name was removed from the ballot. He defeated the incumbent by over 2,000 votes, approximately 6,400 to 4,300 votes. [42] He went on to serve in the Illinois House of Representatives, and was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2008. He was later forced to resign in an expenses scandal. [43]
  • John Adams became an Orange County, California judge in November 2002 after running along with 10 other write-in candidates in the primaries on March 5, 2002 against incumbent Judge Ronald Kline. [44] After the filing deadline in which no candidate filed to run against Kline, a computer hacker discovered that Judge Kline had child pornography on his home computer. Kline got less than 50% of the vote in the primaries, requiring a runoff between him and write-in candidate John Adams (who actually received more votes than Kline). [45] After some legal maneuvers, Kline's name was removed from the general elections, leaving the general election a runoff between Adams and Gay Sandoval, who was the second highest write-in vote getter. [46] Charges against Kline were eventually thrown out. [47]
  • On September 15, 2009, four write-in candidates in the Independence Party primaries for various offices in Putnam County, New York defeated their on-ballot opponents. [48]
  • In a May 2011 school board election for the Bentley School Board in Michigan, Lisa Osborn ran as a write-in candidate and needed just one vote to win a seat. However, she did not receive any votes, even from herself. She explained herself by saying that she was at her son's baseball game and did not have time to go to the polls. [49]

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. [50] Another court challenge to the prohibition on write-in candidates in the second round was filed in July 2014. [51]

Although Proposition 14 prohibits write-in candidates in the second round of voting, it has made it easier for write-in candidates in the first round to advance to the second round. This generally happens in elections where only one candidate is listed on the ballot. Since in each race the top two vote-getters from the first round are guaranteed to advance to the second round, if only one candidate is listed on the ballot, a write-in candidate can easily advance to the second round, as the write-in candidate would only have to compete with other write-in candidates for the 2nd spot, not with any listed candidates. In some jungle primary systems, if the winner in the first round wins by more than 50% of the vote, then the second (runoff) round gets cancelled, but in the system set up by Proposition 14, a second (runoff) round is required regardless of the percent of the vote that the winner of the first round received. Proposition 14 therefore guarantees that if one candidate is listed on the ballot in the first round, a write-in candidate running against the one listed candidate can earn a spot for the second round with as little as one vote. [n 1]

The first election in which Proposition 14 went into effect was the 2012 elections.

Another impact of Proposition 14 on write-in candidates is that since Proposition 14, candidates who are not affiliated with any party can be listed on the ballot for election to offices affected by Proposition 14. Prior to passage of Proposition 14, candidates who were not affiliated with any party, could not run in any party primaries, and were required to run in the general election as write-in candidates.[ citation needed ]

Other countries

With a few exceptions, the practice of recognizing write-in candidates is typically viewed internationally as an American tradition. [61] [62]


See also


  1. In the June 2012 election, a write-in candidate running in the 33rd Senate District won a spot in the runoff race with as few as 3 votes. See official election results
  2. In AD62, two write-in candidates received an equal number of votes (32), and tied for second place against the first-place finisher, incumbent Autumn Burke. Therefore, the two write-in candidates advanced to the general election within one race (see the Los Angeles Times story dated July 11, 2016 Write-in legislative candidates win spots on the November ballot, in some cases with only a handful of votes by John Myers)
  3. 1 2 Data is for the 14 distinct races in which the results for the two write in candidates who advanced in AD62, one of whom received 17.2% and the other received 5.6%, are summed up to 22.8%. When treating the two candidates in AD62 as distinct candidates and averaging over 15 candidates, the average goes down to 26.6% and the min (obviously) drops to 5.6%

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  1. See, for example, Section 1-4-1101, Colorado Revised Statutes (2008)
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