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How many votes should a write-in candidate need to advance?

OLYMPIA – Rob Chase wouldn't have been elected Spokane County treasurer under changes the Legislature is considering to the state’s write-in candidate laws.

Filing as a write-in candidate after the primary ballots were mailed out in 2010, Republican Chase got about 2 percent of the votes in the primary against incumbent Democrat Skip Chilberg, who was running unopposed. But that 2 percent earned Chase a spot on the November ballot, and he beat Chilberg in the general election.

One proposal being considered by the House State Government Committee would require write-in candidates get at least 5 percent of the votes in a primary to advance to the general. It’s an effort, sponsors say, to find serious candidates.

“If someone has the desire and temerity to get 1 percent, that means they are a serious candidate and deserve a shot,” Chase said.

Sheryl Moss of the Secretary of State’s elections office said write-in candidates are “a very large problem” in primary races with only one  candidate on the ballot.

“Voters feel obligated to write-in a candidate,” Moss said.  A few people can get together and decide to write in a friend’s name for an office with only one declared candidate – even if that friend isn’t interested in the job, she said. The state had thousands of write-ins in last year’s election.

Under the state’s top two primary system, a write-in candidate in a race with only one name on the ballot advances to the general election in those races if he or she gets at least 1 percent of the vote. That’s too low for sparsely populated counties or small districts, Moss said.

.In Wahkiakum County last year, a write-in candidate advanced to the general election with just 8 votes. In five counties, people had their names written in for offices which they didn’t intend to seek; they got more than 1 percent of the primary vote and were on the general election ballot. State law doesn’t allow them to have their name withdrawn from the ballot at that point.

None of those unwilling write-ins was elected, but in one county two registered voters had the same name as a write-in who qualified for prosecuting attorney on the general election ballot. Neither was interested in the job, but only one was an attorney. He made it very clear to voters he didn’t want the job.

Write-in candidates should have to file a declaration of candidacy and pay the filing fee of 1 percent of a year’s salary for the position, Chase said. He did both in 2010. But raising the threshold above 1 percent could have a chilling effect on good candidates who join a race late to give voters a choice, he said.

More to this campaign than ho-ho-ho

The voice on the other end of the phone was deep and mellifluous. “Jim. It’s Santa Claus.”

It did not belong to the most famous resident of the North Pole, but to a resident of Incline Village, Nev., whose legal name is Santa Claus. A former police official, a monk, a child advocate. A candidate for president.

He’s one of Washington state’s 37 official write-in candidates for president, a list that includes some less-than-serious and some seriously deluded. They are people who took the time to fill out a form and send it to the Secretary of State’s office. Unless you merely want to check running for president off your bucket list, as one Spokane candidate on the list said, it’s an exercise somewhere between futility and obscurity.

You can’t win (please do not bother call and tell me about the conspiracy between the news media and the major parties to keep you from getting the votes you deserve if only we’d pay attention). The votes you get won’t be counted unless they could decide a close presidential race in the state. Translation: They won’t be counted.

Later this month, the state will report the total number of write-ins cast for the office. You can claim all of them; but you can only be certain of one, and that’s if you cast it for yourself.

Claus, however, is a serious guy –

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More options for that presidential vote

If you don't like Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, you have other choices, and not just the four other candidates on Idaho’s presidential ballot, or the six others on Washington's.

Voters also can – and hundreds do – write in another name on a space provided. Those votes won't be counted unless the race between Obama and Romney is so close they would make a difference. Even though that’s unlikely in either state, that didn't keep 37 would-be White House occupants from filing as official presidential write-in candidates in Washington.

That’s a record number, Libby Nieland of the state elections office said, possibly because this is the first year Washington allowed online filing of the paperwork and because a website offers would-be candidates information and links to the 43 states that allow presidential write-ins.

It’s free in 42 of them. Kentucky charges $50.

The Washington list includes . . .

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Not all write-ins will — or can — count

Voters who are unhappy with their choices for a particular office and are thinking of writing in another candidate should take note: You’re free to write in any name you want in any race on the ballot if you think it will “send a message.”

But that doesn’t mean that ballots will be counted for that race, and whatever message you’re sending may not get delivered.

Write ins are only counted if there are enough to affect the outcome of the race between the candidates on the ballot, and only candidates who file a petition of write-in candidacy before election day have their ballots counted in Washington state.

Washington also has what’s often referred to as a “sore loser law” in state statute and administrative law.

Candidates who ran in the primary but didn’t advance to the general election aren’t eligible to file as write-in candidates for that office, Katie Blinn, attorney for the state Elections Office, said: “No write-in vote for that candidate is valid. The votes will not be counted.”

So if you’re thinking that you’d like to vote for that candidate who really wowwed you in the primary but didn’t make it to November, just remember: That vote won’t count. Except maybe in your heart.

2010: The year of the independent?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, defeated in Alaska’s Republican primary, announces her write-in campaign Friday in Anchorage.

Credit the tea party, our election system or just plain ambition, but 2010 is fast becoming the year for established candidates to shun the two major political parties.

Write-in or third-party candidates look to significantly shake things up in several major statewide races Nov. 2 — and this week, yet another major candidate disclosed he may be adding his name to that list.

Republican Rep. Mike Castle said Wednesday that he “probably” would not wage a write-in candidacy for Delaware senator. But he also said he hasn’t ruled the option out; he’s pondering it, he said, “simply because it’s there, simply because I’ve had a number of people who’ve asked that I do that.” Castle, like Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, lost his Republican primary campaign to an insurgent tea party candidate, and is looking at a write-in effort like the one Murkowski announced last week as a way back into the 2010 political fray.

Below is a roundup of some of the year’s most significant independent candidates — together with a look at their motivations and the odds that they’ll prevail on Election Day. Rachel Rose Hartman

Have you ever voted for an Independent candidate?