If you vote for a write-in candidate for president on Election Day, the name likely won’t be read or formally tabulated by state election officials in Maryland or Virginia. Especially if your vote is for Mom or Mickey Mouse.
Unless a write-in presidential candidate formally registers his or her candidacy, a name written on the ballot likely will be ignored by the departments of elections in both states, according to a News4 review.
News4 sent a series of questions to election officials about their protocols for handling “write-in” votes in presidential elections. According to their responses, and News4’s review of election records and public election board meeting minutes, the states are unable to formally transcribe and tabulate the names of write-in votes.
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Less than three months before Election Day, several high-ranking elected officials have publicly announced plans to write-in the name of a presidential choice, rather than choose among the major party candidates. In the Washington, D.C.-region, multiple high-ranking officials have declined to announce an endorsement of either major party candidate.
Maryland election officials said the state’s shift to paper ballots for the 2016 general election makes the formal tabulation of most write-in candidates untenable. Among the challenges is the quality of the handwriting.
A state election official told News4 the overall number of write-in votes will be tabulated, but the specific handwritten names would only be read by local vote canvassers, if those names are read at all.
Maryland State Board of Elections Assistant Administrator Donna Duncan said the electronic voting systems used in prior elections made it easier for election officials to collect the names of write-in candidates. With the return of the paper ballots, the state’s records would include a spreadsheet in which images of cast ballots are stored, Duncan said. Those images will include the handwritten names of write-in choices, but those choices will not be counted in Maryland unless the total number of write-in votes exceeds those won by all of the major party candidates.
In Virginia, a write-in option will appear on the first page of the ballot, according to state election officials.
“In Virginia, individual write-in votes are only counted if write-in votes constitute at least 5 percent of the total votes cast for the office,” an agency spokesman said. “For presidential write-ins to be counted, a candidate additionally would have to file a joint declaration of write-in intent with the department at least 10 days prior to Election Day.”