Wondering how to write in an unlisted candidate on your ballot this November?
You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in good company: More Americans appear to be researching the process than ever before, at least according to Google Trends data.
CNN reports that in the last week, the search term “write in” has skyrocketed to its highest level since at least 2004, the earliest year for which Google has data:
While it would be easy to dismiss the trend as a potential anomaly and not necessarily politically related, there are several reasons why that’s probably not the case.
First, the term itself follows a regular pattern, one that spikes every September and October at the height of election season. (This year, thanks to an election featuring the least-liked presidential candidates in history, it makes sense that more voters than ever would consider writing in someone else).
Second, and perhaps most interesting, two states in particular have been asking Google about “write in” more than others: Vermont, home to Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate who gave Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the primary; and Utah, where a poll released Wednesday shows independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin might have a shot at winning the state.
So how does one successfully write in a candidate and make it count? It’s entirely dependent on the state where you vote. (Here’s a state-by-state explainer, courtesy of the National Association of Secretaries of State).
In South Carolina, for instance, presidential and vice presidential ballots are prevented by law from including a spot for voters to write in an alternate candidate. Other, non-presidential ballots do include the write-in spot, however.
And while it’s your vote and you’re free to use it (or not use it) however you see fit, elections officials would really rather voters didn’t write in fake names. It may be intended as a joke, but it takes real time and money to sort through them all.
While it may be worth a few giggles while you’re behind the curtain, it’s actually costing you tax dollars.
“Almost every election, there’s people who, I guess, think it’s fun to throw their vote away, basically,” Linda Spence, the town clerk in Manchester, Vermont, told the Associated Press back in the presidential election of 2004. “And while it may be worth a few giggles while you’re behind the curtain, it’s actually costing you tax dollars.”
According to BallotPedia, a majority of states (34) require candidates to notify the secretaries of state ahead of time in order to have write-in votes for them count. Nine states don’t permit write-in votes at all (Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota), and seven states permit voters to write in without any advance notice by the candidate.
If you’re confused ― and who wouldn’t be ― well, there’s always Google.