POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Write-in Candidate

A write-in candidate is one whose name voters fill in despite not appearing on the ballot. While some elections require voters to fill in official candidates, others allow voters to fill in whatever name they please. This can be viewed as akin to a spoilt ballot, such as when candidates fill in the names of fictional characters.

In practice, write-in candidates usually only exist in the US, and even then only in certain states. A small number of states, such as New Hampshire, allow voters to write in the name of any candidate. There are nine others that do not allow write-ins at all, and the rest allow it only for registered candidates.

As with the option to select ‘none of the above’ on a ballot, write-in candidates almost never win. Often it is a form of protest vote, with voters wishing to express dissatisfaction with candidates available. As an example, three GOP senators announced their decision to fill in a write-in candidate during the 2016 US Presidential election.

See also: None of the above, Spoilt vote, Tactical voting

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