The fierce election fight in Alabama over Attorney General Jeff Session’s former U.S. Senate seat came to a close last week. And, controversial Republican nominee Ray Moore lost narrowly.
There are a variety of reasons for that outcome, but one key aspect was write-in votes. Moore, as of this writing, trails Democratic candidate Doug Jones by 1.5%. Write-in votes constituted 1.7% of the total votes cast, exceeding the margin of victory by 2/10th of a percent.
The most prominent write-in voter was Alabama’s other Republican U.S. senator, Richard Shelby, who said he wrote in a “distinguished Republican” instead of Moore. Brent Buchanan, an Alabama Republican strategist told the New York Times that he “would bet strongly it [the write-in vote] was good Republican voters who couldn’t stomach voting for Roy Moore.”
Moore’s incendiary history and the allegations of his interactions with teenage girls certainly played a role in driving up the write-in vote.
Write-in votes are allowed in most states. Sometimes write-in candidates actually win. The most famous recent example was in the 2010 U.S. Senate race in Alaska. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski lost the primary but prevailed in the general election as a write-in candidate.
Idaho allows write-in votes for non-judicial offices. The big issue in Idaho is that write-in candidates must file a declaration of candidacy 28 days before the general election to have any votes count on their behalf.
If a write-in candidate wants to run as a party nominee in the general election, they must get a certain minimum number of write-in votes in the primary election itself (1,000 for a statewide office, 500 for a congressional position, 50 to run for the legislature and only 5 for a county office). This generally only works when no one for a particular party filed for the office, allowing the write-in candidate to secure the party’s nomination for the general election.
Idaho minimizes the potential of a write-in candidate making his or her mark by requiring such votes to be handwritten if the county using scanning technology to tabulate ballots. In some parts of the country successful write-in candidates have distributed stickers bearing their name and office to potential supporters. That is of particular help when the candidate’s name is difficult for voters to spell.
Nevada uses a much more radical system. There, the ballot bears an option beyond the candidate’s names, specifically “None of the Above”. That allows Nevadans to express their distaste for the choices without making any commitment to any alternative.
Under the Nevada system the top vote getting candidate still wins. But, the “None of the Above” option allows voters to make clear their sometimes tepid support for the eventual winner.
Could write-in votes play a deciding roll in Idaho’s 2018 races? Perhaps. For instance, if the candidates for the GOP nomination for governor engage in negative campaigning, it is conceivable that voters could rebel through write-in votes. If enough voters did so who would otherwise back a particular candidate, that could swing the results.
But, given Idaho’s requirement for a declaration of candidacy filed 28 days before the election, the ultimate impact of write-in votes is minimized. The most common method of disagreeing with the candidate choices in Idaho is to leave that particular spot blank on the ballot or to not show up to cast a ballot at all.