A late August poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post found that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the most unfavorable candidates recorded since such factors have been measured. Despite Trump’s often crude mannerisms and unrepentant style, Clinton is even more disliked than he.
Many US citizens consider the 2016 presidential election a frightening prospect. Voters are faced with endorsing a corrupt, politically entrenched shrew or a bigoted, chauvinistic megalomaniac.
Dennis Fernandez of Florence, Arizona sees a third option: “If Hillary Clinton won, I’d probably consider suicide. I’m definitely not a fan.”
Others have considered emigrating to distant lands in the event that their despised candidate is elected. “If Trump wins, well, we’ve already checked out Malta and New Zealand. I’m just not comfortable that he’s not going to make rushed, uninformed decisions,” admits Lawrence James from the battleground state of North Carolina.
But if suicide and exile are not viable options, some Americans may consider selecting a write-in candidate.
How it works
A registered voter cannot simply write in the name of a favorite movie star or drinking buddy. That is, unless this voter happens to be from one of seven permissive states. These include Alabama, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
It is not altogether impossible for Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes to go to Kanye West.
Rest assured, there are other states in the Union where Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or some fringe party candidate are not the only options for president. Thirty four other states require that a candidate is some how registered in order to be accepted as a write-in nominee.
Richard Winger of Ballot Access News describes some of the archaic procedures that states require of write-in candidates. “Georgia requires an advert in a newspaper. There has to be a petition of 500 signatures in North Carolina. In Illinois, a formal declaration of intent has to be filed in every single county and [with the] board of election commissioners.”
Disgruntled voters should forget about a write-in candidate altogether if they are registered to vote in Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina, or New Mexico. These states are unable or unwilling to join in the Election Day fun by tallying (or discarding) such protest votes as Mickey Mouse, Willie Nelson, Clark Kent, and Socrates.
Yet, even experienced lawmakers do not seem to understand the regulations governing write-in candidacy. Ohio Governor John Kasich wrote in Senator John McCain for president, even though the Arizona Senator is not a registered candidate eligible for write-in nomination.
McCain, for his part, says, “I think I might write in Lindsey Graham, he’s an old, good friend of mine and a lot of people like him.” Graham is also ineligible under state law.
An unlikely prospect
Unfortunately for most Americans, who are disillusioned or outright sickened by the two chief presidential candidates, at this late stage in the election a write-in nominee is unlikely to gain traction.
Rogers Smith, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, believes that a viable write-in candidate’s chances of winning the presidential race is similar to, “rowing across the Atlantic in a one-person rowboat and calling upon the Queen.”
Indeed, the history of Americans successfully nominated through write-in campaigns is as strange as it is infrequent.
After republican candidate Byron Looper murdered-yes, murdered- political opponent Tommy Burks in a Tennessee state senate race, the widow of the victim took 90 percent of the votes in a successful write-in bid. Locals rallied to elect Burks’ surviving spouse after Looper remained on the ballot despite his impending legal troubles.
The range and spontaneity of the Internet, with trending topics and viral videos, has generated some miraculous occurrences in the past. Internet sensations are born overnight, and online polls show an electorate whose political assumptions are highly subject to change.
Speaking to Forbes, registered write in candidate and economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff says that, “A third party candidate or a write-in candidate can win if everyone comes to believe that others are flipping to that candidate.”
US Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska rode the success of the emerging Tea Party movement to win the first write-in campaign for US senate since Strom Thurmond in 1954. After losing in the Republican primaries, she went on to win the general election by some 10,000 votes-written in.
Perhaps the greatest chance for an upset write-in lies with the success of a former CIA clandestine operative, businessman, and Mormon from Utah named Evan McMullin. Victory for McMullin requires navigating a regulatory labyrinth established by the 12th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Numerous dubious scenarios would have to unfold, including victory in Utah for McMullin by write-in, the inability of Trump or Clinton to secure 270 electoral votes, the failure of any one candidate to receive a majority from an emergency follow-on election in Congress, and shady back-room dealings that see an alliance between McMullin and either of the nominees for Vice President.
In other words, the odds are slim to none for this. A FiveThirtyEight “polls-only forecast” found that the odds of McMullin becoming the 45th President of the United States were an unlikely one to three percent. Interestingly, this was the same chance given to the Chicago Cubs to come from behind and beat the San Francisco Giants to appear in the World Series.
The Cubs beat the Giants and won the World Series.
Consequently, 472 people have rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. The number of rowers who subsequently called upon the Queen remains unknown.