Write-in votes rarely count for presidential candidates

WASHINGTON — The presidential primary season is winding down with Republicans and Democrats close to solidifying their nominees for the general election.

However, those voters unhappy with the major parties’ choices may be considering some options not on the ballot, including writing in a name of their own.

But in reality, those votes will not actually go to that candidate.

“A candidate still has to register with the state board of elections before they can actually be considered a write-in candidate. And then they actually have to run a campaign for that,” said Roger Hartley, dean of the College of Public Affairs at the University of Baltimore.

Most states have this or a similar requirement for write-in candidates. A handful of states will count all write-in candidates, another handful outright bans them.

“The issue is that a vote for a presidential candidate represents a vote for the electors of that candidate in the electoral college,” said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

In Maryland and Virginia, write-in votes for candidates who did not file their candidacies with the state get piled into a generic “other” or “write-in” category.

“Even though those votes should be counted for, sometimes elections boards think it is too much trouble and you’ll have a vote here and a vote there and they’ll lump them together as ‘other,'” said Johns Hopkins University professor Ben Ginsberg.

“(Your vote) will count in the sense that somewhere in that computer, the vote will be registered,” Ginsberg added, noting that the vote will not be counted for a specific candidate.

For voters who might look for alternative options at the ballot box, there is still time for potential candidates to become official candidates.

“Someone could do this in October and actually be counted,” Skelley explained. Most states require filing to be completed at least a week before Election Day, usually with notarized forms and related documents.

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