Preparing for Write-Ins: Advice from the Center on Civic Design


[Image via democracychronicles]

Election Day is three weeks from today, and due to the content and tenor of the current presidential campaign, there is growing interest in write-in votes. As with many other aspects of the election process, there’s more to the story of casting a write-in than initially meets the eye – and the gurus at the Center for Civic Design have some tips for election officials looking to assist their voters:

The 2016 presidential election may drive some of the biggest write-in campaigns you’ve ever seen. But most voters probably don’t know how write-ins work. Here, we offer some explanations that you can lift to put on your website or send out in emails and other notices for your constituents.

What voters think

You’ve seen those votes for Micky Mouse or Lizard People come through. In most elections, they’ll give you a chuckle, and then you go on about your business. But we’re guessing that in this election voters may be more attracted to the write-in line than ever before. Most voters don’t know that in most states, write-in candidates have to be pre-qualified for their votes to be counted.

What you can do

Put information front and center on your website about write-ins. Post information about write-ins on your Facebook page. Call your local media and give them information about what voters can do and expect around write-ins. Here are some suggestions about what to say and how to say it on your website.

  • If you are in one of the 34 states that requires write-in candidates to be pre-qualified, show or link to a list of candidates. Give instructions, with illustrations, of how to properly write-in a candidate. You might say something like this:

Thinking about writing in a candidate? Your candidate must be pre-qualified. Check our list before you vote. <show or link to the list>

To make your write-in vote count on a paper ballot, fill in the oval/box/join the arrow ends and write in the name, like this: <illustration with ALT text>

Here’s how to vote for a write-in candidate on a touchscreen voting system: <illustration with ALT text>

  • If your state does not allow write-ins, say that clearly and put it in a prominent place on the website. We recommend that you put it near the polling days and hours and add it as an alert in your polling place look-up tool. (Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota.) Here’s an example:

Write-in votes are not allowed in <state name>. Choose from among the candidates on the ballot — or skip voting in that contest (the rest of your votes will still count).

  • If your state has no filing requirements for write-in candidates, tell voters that they may write-in candidates and how those votes will be counted. (Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont)

For example:

To make your write-in vote count on a paper ballot, fill in the oval/box/join the arrow ends and write in the name, like this:
<illustration with ALT text>

Here’s how to vote for a write-in candidate on a touchscreen voting system:
<illustration with ALT text>

Your vote will be added to a category called “other” that the board of elections will review and tally within 10 days of Election Day.

Other tips

  • Tell voters: 
    • who the qualified candidates are, if there are any
    • when the write-in rules are different among contests (federal versus state versus local)
    • what happens if they write in a name that is on the ballot already
    • what happens if they write in a candidate that is not on the ballot and not pre-qualified
    • they don’t have to vote in every contest for their ballot to count
  • Train poll workers how to answer voters’ questions
  • Print lists of qualified candidates (if there any) and have them available in polling places.
  • If write-ins are not allowed, post notices in polling places. 

While the absolute number of voters interested in writing in their choice will likely still pale in comparison to other votes, these suggestions will almost certainly prevent confusion and frustration regarding such votes both on and after Election Day. Thanks to the team at the Center for Civic Design for sharing these tips – and good luck to the election officials for whom 2016 has been an interesting and challenging year indeed!

21 days to Election Day – stay tuned …

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