Write-in candidate

A write-in candidate is a candidate in an election whose name does not appear on the ballot, but for whom voters may vote nonetheless by writing in the person's name. The system is almost totally confined to elections in the United States. Some U.S. states and local jurisdictions allow a voter to affix a sticker, with the write-in candidate's name, to the ballot in lieu of actually writing in the candidate's name. Write-in candidacies are sometimes a result of a candidate being legally or procedurally ineligible to run under his or her own name or party; write-in candidacies may be permitted where term limits bar an incumbent candidate from being officially nominated for, or being listed on the ballot for, re-election. In some cases, write-in campaigns have been organized to support a candidate who is not personally involved in running; this may be a form of draft campaign.

Write-in candidates rarely win, and sometimes write-in votes are cast for ineligible people or fictional characters. Some jurisdictions require write-in candidates be registered as official candidates before the election.[1] This is standard in elections with a large pool of potential candidates, as there may be multiple candidates with the same name that could be written in.

Many U.S. states and municipalities allow for write-in votes in a partisan primary election where no candidate is listed on the ballot to have the same functional effect as nominating petitions: for example, if there are no Reform Party members on the ballot for state general assembly and a candidate receives more than 200 write-in votes when the primary election is held (or the other number of signatures that were required for ballot access), the candidate will be placed on the ballot on that ballot line for the general election. In most places, this provision is in place for non-partisan elections as well.

United States

Historical success of write-in candidates

Generally, write-in candidates can compete in any election within the United States. Typically, write-in candidates have a very small chance of winning, but there have been some strong showings by write-in candidates over the years.

Presidential primaries


House of Representatives

State legislatures

Local government


California's Proposition 14 impact on write-in candidates

In 2010, California voters passed Proposition 14 which set up a new election system for the United States Senate, United States House of Representatives, all statewide offices (governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state controller, attorney general, insurance commissioner, and superintendent of public instruction), California Board of Equalization, and for the California State Legislature. In the system set up by Proposition 14, there are two rounds of voting, and the top two vote-getters for each race in the first round (the primary, normally held in June) advance to a second round (the general election, held in November). Proposition 14 specifically prohibits write-in candidates in the second round, and this prohibition was upheld in a court challenge.[42] Another court challenge to the prohibition on write-in candidates in the second round was filed in July 2014.[43]

Although Proposition 14 prohibits write-in candidates in the second round of voting, it has made it easier for write-in candidates in the first round to advance to the second round. This generally happens in elections where only one candidate is listed on the ballot. Since in each race the top two vote-getters from the first round are guaranteed to advance to the second round, if only one candidate is listed on the ballot, a write-in candidate can easily advance to the second round, as the write-in candidate would only have to compete with other write-in candidates for the 2nd spot, not with any listed candidates. In some jungle primary systems, if the winner in the first round wins by more than 50% of the vote, then the second (runoff) round gets cancelled, but in the system set up by Proposition 14, a second (runoff) round is required regardless of the percent of the vote that the winner of the first round received. Proposition 14 therefore guarantees that if one candidate is listed on the ballot in the first round, a write-in candidate running against the one listed candidate can earn a spot for the second round with as little as one vote.[n 1]

The first election in which Proposition 14 went into effect was the 2012 elections.

Year Number of write-in candidates who successfully made it to the November ballot Offices for which write-in candidates successfully made it to the November ballot General election results for candidates who qualifed as write-in candidates in the primaries Links to election results
Wins Max Average Min Primary (June) General (November)
2012 5 SD03, SD09, SD33, AD15, AD31 0 36.0% 23.4% 13.2% [44] [45]
2014 16[46] CD23, CD44, BOE3, SD16, SD22, SD36, AD5, AD14, AD21, AD31, AD41, AD51, AD60, AD67, AD75, AD76 0 46.6% 31.3% 13.3% [47] [48]
2016 15[n 2] CD14, SD33, AD1, AD2, AD7, AD32, AD46, AD49, AD51, AD58, AD62, AD70, AD73, AD76 TBD TBD TBD TBD [49]

Other countries

With a few exceptions, the practice of recognizing write-in candidates is typically viewed internationally as an American tradition.[50][51]


See also


  1. In the June 2012 election, a write-in candidate running in the 33rd Senate District won a spot in the runoff race with as few as 3 votes. See official election results
  2. In AD62, two write-in candidates received an equal number of votes (32), and tied for second place against the first-place finisher, incumbent Autumn Burke, so two write-in candidates advanced to the general election within one race (see the Los Angeles Times story dated July 11, 2016 Write-in legislative candidates win spots on the November ballot, in some cases with only a handful of votes by John Myers)


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