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Write-in votes are written off during ballot counting

Spokane County chief election official Vicky Dalton and her staff  process mail in ballots at the elections office Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane County chief election official Vicky Dalton and her staff process mail in ballots at the elections office Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Staff and wire reports

Some people displeased with the candidates for president this year have announced their plans to cast a write-in vote, whether it’s for Bernie Sanders or Mike Pence.

But will that vote count? No, except in rare circumstances. You might as well write in Mickey Mouse, something that happens distressingly often, said Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton.

Washington and Idaho are two of the 32 states where people have to officially file as write-in candidates before the election.

If a Washington ballot has a write-in candidate, it’s set aside. The votes for all official write-in candidates are counted, but a vote for any unofficial candidate – like Mickey Mouse – is not. It’s simply tallied as an unofficial vote.

“All those write-ins are tabulated, even if they’re for Mickey Mouse,” Dalton said.

It’s about the same in Idaho – if a voter writes in the name of a candidate who has not registered, the vote isn’t tallied. The state, however, is in the midst of making history: 37 people have signed a declaration for intent as write-in candidates in the presidential race, “which is the most we’ve ever had” said Tim Hurst, chief deputy of the Idaho secretary of state’s office.

The only time unofficial write-ins are examined is if there are enough of them to win the race. That’s extremely rare and Dalton can think of only one example: the 2001 race for mayor in Waverly, a town with a population of 106 in the 2010 census. In that race there were just under two dozen write-in votes, which was enough to win.

It takes extra time for staff to process ballots with write-in votes, which is why Dalton doesn’t recommend that it be done frivolously.

“If you want to make a protest vote, just leave the race blank,” she said. “That accomplishes the same thing.”

The Federal Election Commission said that nationwide, write-in votes have increased more than fivefold since 1984, the Washington Post reported. That number is probably an underestimate, because some states only tabulate write-in votes if a race is close.

Write-in votes usually account for less than 1 percent of all votes cast nationwide. With such a tiny number of votes, it’s extremely unlikely that any write-in votes for president will matter.

Hurst said Idaho voters would traditionally write in Mickey Mouse in protest (or as a joke) for various elected positions, but more recently, he’s seen an uptick in “Star Wars” characters.

“One year, a guy was really anti-Mickey,” he said. “He wrote in a ‘Star Wars’ character for every office on the ballot.”

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