Delaware write-in votes for president skyrocketed in November election

A voter places her absentee ballot at the Kent County Elections office in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Delawareans cast 1,701 write-in votes for president in last month’s election, with about half of those votes going to candidates — real or otherwise — who did not officially register as write-ins.

In total, 817 votes went to declared candidates, an increase from 2012 when just 31 presidential write-in votes went to declared presidential hopefuls.

The jump, though sharp, still amounts to no more than a drop in the electoral bucket: Delawareans cast 443,291 votes for president this year, meaning just 0.4 percent went to write-ins.

The 2016 presidential election was marked by record dissatisfaction from voters, leading to a major hike in write-ins. Maryland, for instance, had 32,000 write-in votes for president, three times what it saw in the 2012 presidential election, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Delaware is one of 32 states that require prior registration by candidates for write-in votes. Ten states allow anyone to receive votes.

Though some states collect and keep a tally of all write-in votes for individuals not on the ballot, Delaware does not. Instead, votes for anyone who has not formally filed as write-in candidate are grouped together in an “other” category.

The practice, adopted in 2008, saves time, preventing the Department of Elections from having to keep track of exactly how many people voted for joke choices like Darth Vader, Abe Lincoln or Allen Iverson.

After Republican Christine O’Donnell — who later became famous for her upset win in the 2010 GOP U.S. Senate primary — ran a write-in campaign for the Senate in 2006, legislators passed a bill requiring write-ins to officially file with the Elections Departments.

Since 2008, names that have not formally declared as write-ins are pooled together, meaning a vote for Joe Biden last month had the same weight as a vote for Mickey Mouse.

Delaware does not allow individuals who already appears on the ballot to be write-in candidates and the state bars people from registering as write-in choices for multiple offices.

Misspelled names generally are accepted.

“The misspelled, incomplete or minor variation of the name of a declared write-in candidate for an office shall be counted if the name as written bears a reasonable resemblance to the declared candidate’s name and no other declared write-in candidate for the office has a name so similar to the name as written as to leave a reasonable doubt as to the voter’s intention,” states the Delaware Code.

“Additionally, writing in the last name of a declared write-in candidate shall constitute a valid vote unless there are two or more candidates for that office with the same last name.”

Although a slight majority of presidential write-ins went into the “other” category this year, generally as jokes or protests, some write-in votes are intended as serious. A total of 706 voters threw their support behind Evan McMullin, an independent candidate who attempted to serve as an alternative to Republican Donald Trump.

Constitution Party nominee Darrell Castle, who received 74 votes, was the only other write-in candidate to earn more than seven tallies.

In 2012, Constitution Party presidential nominee Virgil Goode picked up 23 of the 31 write-in votes given to official candidates. The Department of Elections did not have data on undeclared candidates for that year, and no declared write-in candidates ran in 2008.

Forty-three write-in votes were cast for U.S. representative, with 14 going to Scott Walker, who lost the Democratic primary and then declared as a write-in for the general election.

Twenty write-in votes were submitted in the gubernatorial election, and 28 of the 52 legislative districts on the ballot saw at least one such vote recorded.

In Vermont, which allows anyone to receive write-in votes, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democrat who represents the state and campaigned for the party’s presidential nomination, earned more than 18,000 such votes this year. Delaware’s own Joe Biden received 57, while luminaries such as Judge Judy, Bruce Springsteen and “Fidel” each picked up one vote.

Just over 136,000 write-in votes for president were recorded in 2012, a number that is sure to be topped when the final figures are calculated this year.

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