A write-in candidate is a candidate whose name does not appear on the ballot but seeks election by asking voters to cast a vote for the candidate by physically writing in the person's name on the ballot. Depending on electoral law it may be possible to win an election by winning a sufficient number of such write-in votes, which count equally as if the person was formally listed on the ballot.

Writing in a name that is not already on the election ballot is considered a practice of the United States. However, some other jurisdictions have allowed this practice. In the United States, there are variations in laws governing write-in candidates, depending on the office (federal or local) and whether the election is a primary election or the general election; general practice is an empty field close by annotated to explain its purpose on the ballot if it applies. In five U.S. states there are no elections to which it can apply, under their present laws. Election laws are enacted by each state and in the District of Columbia, to apply to their voters.

How to write in the name

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 their 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. They are also typically used when a candidate, often an incumbent has lost a primary election but still wishes to contest the general 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 may have to register as candidates

Write-in candidates have won elections on rare occasions. Also, write-in votes are sometimes 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.

The spoiler effect

In some cases, the number of write-in votes cast in an election is greater than the entire margin of victory, suggesting that the write-ins may have been sufficient to tip the balance and change the outcome of the election by creating a spoiler effect.[2]

Primary elections in the United States

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.

Write-in option in a referendum

A write-in option may occasionally be available in a multiple-choice referendum; for example in the January 1982 Guamanian status referendum.

Contrast from a blank ballot election system

The term "write-in candidate" is used in elections in which names of candidates or parties are preprinted on a paper ballot or displayed on an electronic voting machine. The term is not generally used in elections in which all ballots are blank and thus all voters must write in the names of their preferred candidates. Blank ballot election systems reduce the cost of printing the ballots, but increase the complexity of casting and counting votes. Such systems are used in Japan,[3] and were used in the past in the French Second Republic[4] and in elections in the Philippines from World War II until the 2010 general election.[5] Some systems use a semi-blank ballot, such as Finland, where the voter must fill in a candidate's given number or letter from a separate ballot, but where there is a clear-cut arrangement with a circle or box with a description of how to vote for a given candidate. Blank-ballot systems typically require candidates to be nominated in advance.

United States

Requirements for write-in candidates in the 2020 United States general election .mw-parser-output .legend{page-break-inside:avoid;break-inside:avoid-column}.mw-parser-output .legend-color{display:inline-block;min-width:1.25em;height:1.25em;line-height:1.25;margin:1px 0;text-align:center;border:1px solid black;background-color:transparent;color:black}.mw-parser-output .legend-text{} Registration not required Registration required Write-in not allowed for president, registration required for other offices Write-in only allowed for substitutes Write-in not allowed
Requirements for write-in candidates in the 2020 United States general election
 Registration not required
 Registration required
 Write-in not allowed for president, registration required for other offices
 Write-in only allowed for substitutes
 Write-in not allowed

The requirements to appear on the general election ballot as an independent candidate or to have write-in votes counted vary by state and by political office sought.

Forty-one states and the District of Columbia allow write-in votes on their ballots, including for president; Arkansas, New Mexico and South Carolina allow write-in candidates for some offices but not for president; Mississippi allows write-in votes only to substitute a candidate listed on the ballot who was removed, withdrew or died; Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, Oklahoma and South Dakota do not allow any write-in votes. Most of the jurisdictions allowing write-in votes require that the write-in candidates register by a certain date for their votes to be counted. Typically this registration consists only of a declaration of candidacy, but some states also require signatures of a certain number of voters, additional paperwork or fees. The deadline to register as a write-in candidate is usually later than to petition to be listed on the ballot.

2020 presidential general election

Requirements for independent candidates for president in the 2020 United States general election
State or district Petition to be listed on ballot Registration as write-in candidate Sources
signatures fee deadline signatures fee deadline
Alabama 00005,000 August 20[a] Registration not required [7][8]
Alaska 00003,212 August 5 October 29 [9]
Arizona 00044,500[b] September 4 September 24 [12]
Arkansas 00001,000 August 3 Write-in not allowed for president [13]
California 00196,964 August 7 October 20 [14][15]
Colorado[c] 00005,000 July 9 July 16 [16][17][18]
00000,0 $1,000 August 5
Connecticut 00005,250[d] August 7[e] October 20 [22]
Delaware 00007,131[f] September 1 September 20 [23][25]
District of Columbia 00000,250[g] August 5 November 6 [26]
Florida 00132,781 July 15 June 30 [27]
Georgia 00005,250[h] $24[i] June 19[j] September 8[k] [31]
Hawaii 00004,377 August 5 Write-in not allowed [32]
Idaho 00001,000 August 24 September 11 [33][34]
Illinois 00002,500[l] July 20[m] September 3 [35]
Indiana 00044,935 June 30 July 6 [36]
Iowa 00001,500 August 14 Registration not required [37][38]
Kansas 00005,000 August 3 $20 October 26 [39]
Kentucky 00005,000 $500 September 4 $50 October 23 [40][41]
Louisiana[c] 00005,000 July 22 Write-in not allowed [42][43]
00000,0 $500 August 21
Maine 00004,000 July 25 September 4 [44][45]
Maryland 00005,000[n] July 6 October 19 [47]
Massachusetts 00010,000 July 28 September 4 [48][49]
Michigan 00030,000 July 16 September 4 [50]
Minnesota 00002,000 August 18 October 27 [51]
Mississippi 00001,000 $2,500 September 4 Write-in only allowed for substitutes [52][53]
Missouri 00010,000 July 27 October 23 [54][55]
Montana 00005,000 May 26 September 9 [56][57][58]
Nebraska 00002,500 August 3 October 23 [59][60]
Nevada 00009,608[o] $250 August 14 Write-in not allowed [61][63]
New Hampshire 00003,000[p] $250 August 5 Registration not required [65][66]
New Jersey 00000,800 July 27 Registration not required [67][68]
New Mexico 00003,483 June 25 Write-in not allowed for president [69]
New York 00030,000[q] July 30[r] October 13 [70]
North Carolina 00071,545[s] March 3 500 July 21[t] [73][75]
North Dakota 00004,000 August 31 October 13 [76]
Ohio 00005,000 August 5 August 24 [77]
Oklahoma[c] 00035,592 July 15 Write-in not allowed [78][79]
00000,0 $35,000[u]
Oregon 00001,000 August 11 Registration not required [80][81]
Pennsylvania 00005,000 $200 August 3 Registration not required [82][83][84]
Rhode Island 00001,000 September 4 Registration not required [85][86]
South Carolina 00010,000 July 20[v] Write-in not allowed for president [87][88]
South Dakota 00003,388[w] August 4 Write-in not allowed [89]
Tennessee 00000,275 August 20 September 14 [91]
Texas 00089,693 May 11 August 17 [92]
Utah 00001,000 $500 August 17 $500 August 31 [93]
Vermont 00000,0[x] August 3 Registration not required [95]
Virginia 00005,000[y] August 21 October 24 [96][97]
Washington 00001,000 August 7 November 3 [98]
West Virginia 00007,144 $2,500 August 3 September 15 [99][100]
Wisconsin 00002,000 August 4 October 20 [101][102]
Wyoming 00004,025 $200 August 24 Registration not required [103][104]
  1. ^ Extended from August 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[6]
  2. ^ Calculated as 3% of 1,483,316 voters (1,301,292 active + 182,024 inactive) not affiliated with a recognized party as of January 2, 2020,[10][11] rounded up to the next integer.
  3. ^ a b c Candidates qualify by providing either the signatures or the fee.
  4. ^ Reduced by 30% from 7,500 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[19][20]
  5. ^ Extended by two days from August 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[21][20]
  6. ^ Calculated as 1% of 713,055 registered voters as of January 2, 2020,[23][24] rounded up to the next integer.
  7. ^ Reduced from 1% of registered voters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[26]
  8. ^ Reduced by 30% from 7,500 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[28]
  9. ^ $1.50 for each of 16 presidential electors.[29] Candidates unable to pay the fee may request a waiver.[30]
  10. ^ Deadline to file list of candidates for presidential electors. Additional forms are required at later dates.[31]
  11. ^ Deadline to file notice of candidacy. An additional form is required at a later date.[31]
  12. ^ Reduced to 10% of 25,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[35]
  13. ^ Extended from June 22 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[35]
  14. ^ Reduced by 50% from 10,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[46]
  15. ^ Calculated as 1% of 960,774 votes for U.S. representatives in the 2018 general election,[61][62] rounded up to the next integer.
  16. ^ Reduced by 35% to 1,950 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only for the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire.[64]
  17. ^ Reduced from 45,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[70][71]
  18. ^ Extended from May 26 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[72][71]
  19. ^ Calculated as 1.5% of 4,769,640 votes for governor in the 2016 general election,[73][74] rounded up to the next integer.
  20. ^ Deadline to file signatures with county boards of elections. They must also be filed with the state board of elections at a later date.[75]
  21. ^ $5,000 for each of 7 presidential electors.
  22. ^ Extended by five days from July 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[87]
  23. ^ Calculated as 1% of 338,715 votes for governor in the 2018 general election,[89][90] rounded up to the next integer.
  24. ^ Requirement of 1,000 signatures eliminated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[94][95]
  25. ^ Reduced to 2,500 due to COVID-19 pandemic, only for the Constitution, Green, Independent Green and Libertarian parties of Virginia.[96]

U.S. Senate

Strom Thurmond (South Carolina, 1954) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska, 2010) are the only U.S. Senate candidates to win an election via write-in and defeat candidates with ballot access.

U.S. House of Representatives

State legislatures

Local government

Other elections

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, held in June 2004 – 2018 and March 2020–present) 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.[161] Another court challenge to the prohibition on write-in candidates in the second round was filed in July 2014.[162]

Although Proposition 14 prohibits write-in candidates in the second round of voting, it has created conditions that can make 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 second 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 only 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.

Another impact of Proposition 14 on write-in candidates is that since the passage of Proposition 14, candidates who are not affiliated with any party can be listed on the ballot for election to offices affected by Proposition 14. Prior to passage of Proposition 14, candidates who were not affiliated with any party, could not run in any party primaries, and were required to run in the general election as write-in candidates.[citation needed]

Other countries

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (August 2019)

With a few exceptions, the practice of recognizing write-in candidates is typically viewed internationally as a tradition in the United States.[175][176]


See also


  1. ^ In the June 2012 election, write-in candidate Lee H. Chauser 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. Therefore, the 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)
  3. ^ a b Data is for the 14 distinct races in which the results for the two write-in candidates who advanced in AD62, one of whom received 17.2% and the other received 5.6%, are summed up to 22.8%. When treating the two candidates in AD62 as distinct candidates and averaging over 15 candidates, the average goes down to 26.6% and the min (obviously) drops to 5.6%


  1. ^ See, for example, Section 1-4-1101, Colorado Revised Statutes (2008)
  2. ^ Pengelly, Martin (December 30, 2017). "Mickey Mouse and Jesus among write-in votes that helped sink Roy Moore". The Guardian. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  3. ^ Cox, Karen E.; Schoppa, Leonard J. (2016). "Interaction Effects in Mixed-Member Electoral Systems". Comparative Political Studies. 35 (9): 1027–1053 : 1038. CiteSeerX doi:10.1177/001041402237505. ISSN 0010-4140. S2CID 154631760. Japanese voters receive a blank ballot paper and are instructed to write down the name of an SMD candidate after examining a sheet posted on the wall of their voting booth. This list gives the names of all candidates along with the names of the party that submitted the candidate’s name.
  4. ^ Schaffer, Frederic Charles (2008). The Hidden Costs of Clean Election Reform. Cornell University Press. pp. 49, fn. 32. ISBN 9780801441158. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  5. ^ Schaffer, Frederic Charles (2016). "Might Cleaning Up Elections Keep People Away from the Polls? Historical and Comparative Perspectives" (PDF). International Political Science Review. 23 (1): 69–84 : 76–77. doi:10.1177/0192512102023001004. ISSN 0192-5121. S2CID 154673192. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2021-02-24. Retrieved 2018-05-11.
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