Does Your Vote Count if You Write in a Joke Candidate?

liveslow/iStock via Getty Images
liveslow/iStock via Getty Images

Reader Aaron from East Cobb, Georgia wrote in to ask, “When I vote, if a candidate is running unopposed, I will often cast a write-in vote for a fictional character (e.g. Kermit the Frog). Does someone actually tally and record such votes, and is there anywhere I can go to see if he got any other votes?”

It depends on where the vote is cast, because state and local laws and election codes vary. In many places, write-in votes are not a free-for-all, and elections boards don’t count or record a write-in vote if it’s not for an official write-in candidate in a given race.* In Cochise County, Arizona, for example, a write-in for an unofficial candidate has “the same effect as not voting at all in that race.” The vote isn’t counted or even registered as a vote, and shows up as an “under vote” in the final results.

Elsewhere, illegitimate write-in votes are counted, even if they don’t actually count. In Georgia and Texas, for example, write-ins for unofficial candidates don’t mean anything to the election, but some counties will still tally the invalid votes and/or keep lists of the names that were written in and publish them in elections reports. In Clarke County, Georgia's write-in report from the 2012 general election, Charles Darwin got some 4,000 votes in the 10th Congressional District race. The election commission for the US territory of Guam also tabulates and publishes the write-in votes cast in the island’s elections. You can see their 2014 write-in report here.

Whether you’re just getting a laugh by voting for Mickey Mouse for president or expressing you dissatisfaction with the candidates who are running, elections officials all over would really like it if you didn’t write in joke votes or unofficial candidates. Ballots with write-in votes usually have to be set aside and examined by an elections official so they can decipher the voter’s handwriting, determine their intent, and compare the vote to the list of official write-in candidates—all of which costs time, manpower and municipal money.

*Who is and isn’t an official write-in candidate also varies from place to place. Getting into the race in Texas means filing a Declaration of Write-in Candidacy with the Secretary of State or a county judge, and either paying a filing fee or having a nominating petition with a certain number of signatures. Aspiring write-in candidates in Georgia, meanwhile, need only run a notice of their intent to run as a write-in in a newspaper and send the same notice and an affidavit to the appropriate officials

Greta Thunberg Named TIME’s Person of the Year for 2019

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Stringer/Getty Images
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Stringer/Getty Images

After receiving a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and launching global strikes for the environment, Greta Thunberg has something new to add to her list of accomplishments. The 16-year-old climate activist has been named TIME's Person of the Year for 2019.

TIME compiles an annual list of individuals and groups that, "for better or for worse [...] has done the most to influence the events of the year." On December 11, TIME revealed that Greta Thunberg was chosen from the finalists to appear on the cover of its Person of the Year issue. According to The Washington Post, the Swedish teenager is the youngest person to receive the honor.

Since leading her first student strike for climate action in 2018, Greta Thunberg has grown a movement of young people fighting for the future of their planet. TIME magazine writes in its profile, "she has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change. She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not. She has persuaded leaders, from mayors to Presidents, to make commitments where they had previously fumbled."

In 2019, Greta Thunberg morphed from a rising star in activist circles to a household name. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in March, and in August, she traveled by ship to North America to participate in climate protests and deliver a speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit.

Over the past decade, TIME's Persons of the Year have included Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Pope Francis, and Donald Trump. As TIME writes, Thunberg stands out from this field in that she is "not a leader of any political party or advocacy group [...] she’s not a billionaire or a princess, a pop star or even an adult." Despite this, clearly and effectively sharing her message, that “we can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow," as she tells the magazine, has been enough to garner global attention.

[h/t TIME]

What Happens to Leftover Campaign Funds When a Candidate Drops Out?

After nearly one year of campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, Kamala Harris has officially bowed out of the 2020 election. She's not the only would-be president to call it quits so far. So what happens to all the leftover campaign funds when a candidate drops out?

One thing's for sure: Upset candidates can't console themselves by putting the dough toward a new yacht and sailing off to recuperate. The Federal Election Commission has strict rules about what federal candidates can and can't do with leftover campaign money, and the biggest directive is that they can't pocket it for personal use.

Here's what a campaign committee is allowed to do with any lingering cash: it can donate the funds to charities or political parties; it can contribute $2000 per election to other candidates; and it can save the money in case the candidate chooses to run again. However, those regulations don't apply to the relatively new super PACs (Political Action Committees); this is only the third election where they have played a role, and there are currently no rules to stipulate what happens to that money beyond that it cannot go to fund another federal candidate. Much of that money tends to be returned to its original donors, used to wrap up the failed campaign, or donated to back a state-level candidate. The goal, however, is always to spend all of that money.

Running a campaign is an expensive proposition—Barack Obama spent nearly $750 million on his 2008 White House bid, and in 2012 he spent $985 million on reelection while challenger Mitt Romney spent $992 million—and insufficient cash is often a reason campaigns go belly up.

As for winning (or sometimes losing) politicians, they'll often put their leftover funds toward their next race. If they choose not to run, they have to abide by the same FEC rules. Wonder why this law is in effect? Until 1993, U.S. Representatives who took office before January 8, 1980, were allowed to keep any leftover campaign cash when they retired, but a study showed that a third of Congress kept and spent millions in campaign donations on personal items like clothing, jewelry, artwork, personal travel, and dry cleaning. Embarrassed, Congress passed a law negating this custom for the House; the Senate already had provisions in place so this wouldn't happen.

In reality though, officials can usually find a way to make that cash still work for them (and state laws differ from federal ones). After Chris Christie won reelection as New Jersey's governor in 2014, his campaign was granted permission to use some of its remaining war chest to cover the legal fees Christie incurred during the Bridgegate scandal. And this was well before he dropped $26.7 million on his failed 2016 presidential bid.

An earlier version of this article originally ran in 2012.