Write-In Votes Aren't Allowed for President in 9 States

by | October 21, 2016

By Bristow Marchant

It is understandable that some S.C. voters might be considering casting a write-in vote for president this year -- whether for Nikki Haley, Bernie Sanders, Mickey Mouse or their mom.

Americans are uniquely unhappy with their presidential options. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have the highest unfavorable ratings of any major party nominees in recent history.

The problem?

In South Carolina, voters can't write in a candidate for president.

While the state provides a write-in option for every other office on the Nov. 8 ballot, S.C. law doesn't allow for write-in votes for president and vice president.

In 1982, S.C. lawmakers approved a change to state election law to bar write-in votes for president, becoming one of only nine states to deny a write-in option, according to Ballotpedia.

Counting write-in votes for other offices is straightforward.

But election officials are faced with a challenge in the presidential race because write-in candidates don't have a slate of electors that could vote for them in the Electoral College -- which is what a citizen's vote for president really is deciding.

"Electors have to file with the secretary of state, so you can actually vote for a slate" of electors, said Chris Whtimire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission. "I've seen some older ballots that have the electors listed on them. ... You have Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew and then the names of the electors voting for them."

The early 1980s debate over barring write-in votes for president centered on the difficulties of offering a write-in option as the state was adopting more high-tech voting machines, recalls Rick Whisonant, a political science professor at York Technical College.

"It was said to be too labor-intensive as you get into a more electronic age of voting methods," Whisonant said.

Still, this year, the lack of a write-in option is sure to leave some voters dissatisfied, even with five other options for president besides Clinton and Trump on the ballot.

Gibbs Knotts, political science chair at the College of Charleston, says some local officeholders -- like Gov. Haley, or U.S. Sens. Tim Scott or Lindsey Graham -- may be missing out on a chance to have their constituents vote for them for president.

"Of all the years when you might get a write-in vote, it would certainly be this one," Knotts said.

(c)2016 The State (Columbia, S.C.)