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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

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 State law doesn’t allow them to have their name withdrawn from the ballot at that point.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.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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