Should ALL Votes be Write-In Votes?

Over the last few weeks some in the media have been talking about the use of “write-in” voting. The media attention is mainly due to the announcement of US Senator Lisa Murkowski’s that she will be a write-in candidate for the same office. Murkowski decided to run a write-in campaign after failing to be renominated by the Republican Party and unable to obtain the nomination of another party. However, many people don’t understand that there are different rules for write-in candidates (and votes) in every State. Alaska, where Murkowski is running, requires write-in candidates to file a “declaration of intent” form but does not require the voter to spell the candidate’s name correctly; as long as the election officials are able to determine the “intent of the voter”.

At the same time that Alaskans are considering possibly electing a Senator that is not on the ballot via write-in, a court in California has ruled that a space for write-in votes should be removed from the ballots. And a newspaper in Washington state has endorsed a candidate for a write-in campaign, even though that candidate is prohibited from being a write-in candidate because he was candidate in the “top two primary” and finished 4th.

Regarding the ruling in California, Richard Winger of Ballot Access News writes,

“California Election Code section 8141.5, added by SB 6 (the implementing language for Proposition 14), says, “Only the two candidates for a voter-nominated office who receive the highest and second-highest numbers of votes cast at the primary shall appear on the ballot.” Most people would read that sentence to refer only to names that are printed on the ballots (by the agency that prints the ballots), not names written in on the ballot by a voter. Section 8606 says, “A person whose name has been written on the ballot as a write-in candidate at the general election for a voter-nominated office shall not be counted.” Most readers would detect a difference between a law saying that write-in space should be omitted from printed ballots, and that law. The California election code continues to say that write-in space should be printed on all ballots. Section 15340, which was not amended by SB 6, says, “Each voter is entitled to write the name of any candidate for any public office on the ballot of any election.” Section 8600, which was also not amended by SB 6, explains how any person can file to be a declared write-in candidate in any election. Section 13212, which was also not amended by SB 6, says, “Under the designation of each office shall be printed as many blank spaces, defined by light lines at least 3/8ths of an inch apart but no more than one-half an inch apart, as there are candidates to be nominated or elected to the office.””

Winger also writes, “Write-in candidates have been elected in November to Congress on 7 occasions: US Senate in South Carolina 1954 and California 1946 (for a short term); US House in Massachusetts 1918, California 1930, Arkansas 1958, New Mexico 1980, and California 1982.” And arguably everyone elected to Congress before 1888 was a “write-in candidate” as “there were no printed ballots before that year; people simply prepared their own ballots and were free to vote for the qualified candidate of their choice. When the government began to print ballots in 1888, it acknowledged this freedom of an unrestricted vote and invariably left a write-in space on the ballots,“ says Winger.

Maybe it’s time to get the government out of the business of deciding who one is allowed to vote for. I wouldn’t be opposed to returning to the pre-1888 ballot method of allowing people or groups to print their own ballots with the names of their preferred candidates.