None of the above: Almost 2,100 write-in votes recorded

DOVER — Delaware residents cast 2,093 write-in votes in last month’s election, with about 42 percent of those going to undeclared candidates.

Unlike some states, Delaware requires write-in candidates to register beforehand. Those who do not do so are grouped together in an “other” category and votes for them go uncounted.

In total, 882 votes went to undeclared candidates. The bulk of those were from New Castle County voters, with 120 coming from Kent County residents and 174 being cast in Sussex County.

Delaware legislators changed a state law in 2008 to ease the Department of Elections’ burden, preventing it from having to count individual votes for obvious joke or protest selections like Darth Vader, SpongeBob SquarePants and Joe Biden (this year, anyway).

“A lot of time is spent at the court of canvass reading off the names of write-ins — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, none of the above or anyone but,” Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said in 2008 when the proposal was being debated in a Senate committee. “This bill also would subject write-in candidates to the same campaign finance laws you all have to follow.”

Of the 1,211 official votes spread across six offices, 1,077 went to candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican nominee Scott Walker, who upset the party’s preferred candidate in a September primary, was disavowed by the Delaware GOP over alleged bizarre behavior and allegations of racism and ineptitude.

Paul Johnston earned 637 votes, with Andrew Webb collecting 417 and Marvin Davis pulling in 23.

After the state Republican Party announced it would not back Mr. Walker, chairman Mike Harrington said he would encourage voters to support Mr. Webb.

The U.S. Senate race was the only other one to feature multiple declared write-in candidates, with the three hopefuls there combining for 14 votes.

Delaware residents also gave Allen Jester 66 votes for attorney general, James Edward Christina six in the Elsmere-area 13th Representative District, Christopher Mockerman one in the Wilmington Manor-area 17th Representative District and Jean Dowding 47 in the 31st Representative District, which covers the Dover area. Ms. Dowding ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for the office.

Out of the 882 votes for unofficial candidates at least 205 went to the U.S. House of Representatives race, although the exact number cannot be determined because write-in votes by Sussex County residents were not broken down by election contest.

In 2016, Delawareans cast 2,224 write-in votes for president, with 817 going to declared candidates. Voters could choose one of 31 declared tickets, although only independent Evan McMullin (706) and Constitution Party nominee Darrell Castle (74 votes) earned more than seven votes.

Just 31 presidential write-in votes went to declared presidential hopefuls in 2012. The Department of Elections did not have data on undeclared candidates for that year.

In total, 3,125 write-in voters were submitted by Delawareans in 2016. Just twenty-three of the 901 votes that went to non-presidential hopefuls were for declared candidates, with all 23 coming in the race for the U.S. House.

According to the Federal Election Commission, almost 700,000 write-in votes for president were cast in 2016, about 0.5 percent of all ballots cast in the race. There were close to 137,000 such votes in 2012.

Delaware doesn’t allow individuals who already appear on the ballot to be write-in candidates. The state also bars people from registering as write-in choices for multiple offices. Individuals intending to run as write-ins have until Sept. 30 to register.

Misspelled names are generally 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.”

According to the Washington Post, as of the 2016 general election, 32 states required write-in candidates to register ahead of time, while eight did not allow any write-ins. The remaining 10 had no such restrictions on who could receive votes.

Although successful write-in campaigns are rare, there are a few instances in American history. Democrat Strom Thurmond was elected to the U.S. Senate from South Carolina as a write-in candidate in 1954. He switched to the Republican Party in 1964 and held the seat for 48 years.

In 2010, after incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost Alaska’s Republican primary, she created a write-in campaign and became the second person to win election to the U.S. Senate in that way.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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