According to Suetonius in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, the Roman emperor Caligula planned to make his favorite horse, Incitatus, a consul. Like the supposed depravities of Caligula himself, the appointment of Incitatus is one of many commonly held notions about Ancient Rome that is open to question, if not largely debunked by historians. But the idea of electing an animal to office didn’t end with Caligula, who was stabbed to death by conspirators in 41 CE. During the last century, dogs, goats, rhinos, mules, and more have all run for office—and some have actually won.
In the 1920s, disgruntled locals in Fortaleza, Brazil, decided a local goat named Ioiô would make a far better city councilor than the human candidates presented to them. Though he wasn’t an official candidate, many voters wrote Ioiô’s name on their ballot sheet. Unfortunately, the votes for Ioiô were deemed inadmissible, but nonetheless, the goat became quite the celebrity in Fortaleza. He died of old age in 1931 and was promptly stuffed and given to the Museum of Ceará, where he stands to this day.
2. Boston Curtis
In 1938, Republicans in the town of Milton, Washington, unwittingly elected a mule as their new precinct committeeman. The ruse was the work of Milton's Democratic mayor, Kenneth Simmons, whose goal was twofold: to embarrass the Republicans and make a statement about the inefficiency of the primary system. With no other names put forward, Simmons registered a mule, whom he named Boston Curtis, to fill the vacant Republican post. Despite knowing nothing about this mysterious candidate, voters elected Boston Curtis with 51 votes. It was only when the results of the uncontested election were announced that residents of Milton realized they had elected a long-eared brown mule as their new committeeman. After the hoax was revealed, it was declared the mule had "returned to the democratic fold."
In 1959, a 4-year-old rhinoceros named Cacareco was peacefully minding her own business at the zoo in São Paulo, Brazil—until someone decided she’d make a better candidate than the 540 other contenders in São Paulo’s city council elections, many of whom were seen as corrupt or woefully inadequate. The idea caught on, and Cacareco won by a landslide, with her name written on roughly 100,000 ballots. The closest human candidate received just 10,079 votes. Election officials rejected her candidacy, but the electorate had made its point. To this day, the term “Voto Cacareco” (Cacareco Vote) is used in Brazil to refer to a protest vote.
Colossus was a nearly 500-pound silverback gorilla—one of the largest ever held in captivity—who lived at Benson's Wild Animal Farm in Hudson, New Hampshire. In 1980, as a publicity stunt for the zoo, Colossus was put forward as a presidential candidate for the Vegetarian Party in the New Hampshire primary. Colossus’s campaign manager, a chimpanzee, entered the secretary of state’s office to fill out the paperwork. His human owner, meanwhile, argued the gorilla was entitled to be on the ballot, as he met the age requirement and was born in the United States. Colossus never quite made it to the White House, but he was included in a series of presidential primary trading cards authorized by the state library, alongside George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.
5 and 6. Billy Gumboot and Tai
When the small town of Whangamomona declared its independence from New Zealand in 1989, its first order of business was to elect a president. The self-proclaimed Republic of Whangamomona elected Ian Kjestrup, a human, as its first president, despite Kjestrup having no idea he was on the ballot. After he retired, Billy Gumboot, a goat, won by a landslide in 1999. The second non-human president of the republic was voted into office in 2003. Tai, a poodle, ruled for just one year, her presidency marred by a non-fatal attack by another dog, which some locals claim was a political assassination attempt. Tai was the republic’s last non-human president. The current president, John Herlihy, took office in 2017 and was reelected in 2019, despite opposition from a teddy bear, a sheep, and a cockatoo.
7. Macaco Tião
Macaco Tião was a notoriously bad-tempered chimpanzee who lived at the Rio de Janeiro Zoo from 1963 to 1996. Despite his cantankerous nature, Tião was much loved by staff and visitors alike, and made the local news on more than one occasion after throwing feces at visiting politicians. His fame skyrocketed in 1988 when the anti-establishment Brazilian Banana Party entered the chimp as a candidate for mayor of Rio de Janeiro. He received 400,000 votes and came in third.
In 2000, Winnie the pig was the star of a continuous protest by farmers outside the Houses of Parliament in London. Due to her newfound fame, the farmers decided to put Winnie forward as a candidate for mayor of London. They registered the pig just before the deadline, but the campaign was soon thwarted: Election officials became suspicious when they saw the check for the candidate’s £10,000 registration fee: The name of the bank on the check was Piggybank PLC, a bank strangely not recognized by the officials.
When two university graduates decided that none of the 2013 candidates for the mayor of Xalapa, Mexico, were up to scratch, they decided a cat called Morris would be a worthy alternative. The feline candidate soon became popular online, and received a questionable 12,000 votes, enough to potentially place him fourth in the field of 11 candidates. It wasn’t without some controversy, with some critics arguing that Morris split the opposition vote, handing the victory to Mexico's powerful ruling party. The cat’s campaign staff rejected this, saying “Let's be realistic ... Who divided the vote? A simple cat, or the fragmented opposition?”
10. and 11. Max I and Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller II
The United States has a fine tradition of electing animals to office, with some towns regularly electing four-legged mayors. The unincorporated town of Idyllwild, California, has elected two canine mayors since 2012. Mayor Max I was the first golden retriever to take office, but he was an aging political veteran when elected and sadly died a year later at just over 12 years old. The town soon began looking for a successor. Another golden retriever, Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller II, was elected in 2014 at just 11 months old. Despite his inexperience, Mayor Max II proved to be a hugely popular mayor, and upon his third election was appointed mayor for life.
After a series of high-profile corruption cases, residents of the Siberian city of Barnaul were fed up with their mayoral candidates. So, in 2015, they decided to vote for a cat named Barsik. In an unofficial poll, the cat destroyed his six human candidates, winning 91.2 percent of the 5400 votes cast. The protest vote was a resounding success, but Barsik was not registered as a mayoral candidate and was therefore unable to take office.
13. Crawfish B. Crawfish
When Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced he was entering the Republican presidential race in 2015, he faced an unlikely challenger: A crawfish. His Bayou State rival, Crawfish B. Crawfish, mounted a ferocious online campaign, spearheaded by the "Can This Crawfish Get More Supporters Than Bobby Jindal?" Facebook page. And while Crawfish B. Crawfish’s campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, he did manage to get more Facebook followers than your average freshwater crustacean.
In 2019, a 3-year-old Nubian goat named Lincoln became the first honorary pet mayor of the small Vermont town of Fair Haven, defeating rival cats and dogs and a gerbil named Crystal. Despite pooping on the inaugural podium, Lincoln went on to have a successful year as mayor. But in the cutthroat politics of Fair Haven, no goat can rest easy. In January 2020, Lincoln found himself in a tense battle to win reelection. Two candidates entered the fray: Sammy, a 6-year-old German Shepherd rescue dog, and Murfee, a 3-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and certified therapy dog. After the March 3 election, Murfee was declared the winner.