Pundits and pollsters told us that many voters didn’t like their choices for president this year. But rather than stay home, thousands of North Carolina voters showed their displeasure with the names at the top of the ballot by writing in one of their own.
The percentage of registered voters who cast ballots this year – about 69 percent – was about the same as it was in 2012 and 2008; there was a full slate of races on the ballot, after all. But the portion of votes that went to write-in candidates for president was four times higher than it was in 2008 and nearly five times higher than in 2012.
Write-ins accounted for 1.26 percent of votes cast for president in North Carolina this year, compared to 0.26 percent in 2012. Statewide, 59,491 voters wrote out a name rather than fill in the circle next to Republican Donald Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton or Libertarian Gary Johnson.
Who were they voting for? Lots of different people, if Wake County is any indication. Wake voters wrote in 1,253 names or phrases, most receiving only one vote each.
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The winner among write-ins in Wake with 1,839 votes was Evan McMullin, the former CIA officer from Utah who ran as an independent, followed by Green Party candidate Jill Stein with 1,740 and Democrat Bernie Sanders with 1,148. The Republicans who lost to Trump in the primary each got some votes, led by John Kasich with 603.
The act of writing in a name by itself shows some dissatisfaction with the candidates on the ballot, but several voters made it clear. “America deserves better,” “We can do better America” and “Any random citizen not on this ballot” each received a vote, as did “I need a better choice.” Fifteen voters wrote “no confidence,” while “Anyone else” received 18 votes and “None of the above” got 95.
The frustration of the voter who wrote in “Grilled-cheese sandwich” comes through, too.
Other results from the Wake write-ins for president:
▪ Jesus and Jesus Christ received a combined 122 votes, with God pulling in another 15. Some voters asked for God’s help: “God have mercy,” “God help us” and “Lord have mercy” each received a vote.
▪ Cartoon characters are still a popular protest vote, with Batman, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Snoopy, Winnie-the-Pooh, Superman and Captain America among those receiving votes. But the king of cartoon write-ins remains Mickey Mouse, who received 43 votes in Wake, two more than Rand Paul.
▪ Several voters seemed to pine for an earlier time by picking former presidents, even dead ones. George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson all received votes, as did George W. Bush (1), Jimmy Carter (2) and Barack Obama (9). (Michelle Obama received 25 votes.) The most popular former president was Ronald Reagan, who received 12 votes, including one in combination with Margaret Thatcher.
▪ Celebrities are also popular protest votes, though voters scattered their picks widely. Adam Sandler, Chuck Norris, Lady Gaga, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Jerry Garcia, Bruce Springsteen and LeBron James all received just one vote each. Bill Murray got 5.
▪ Most of the names voters wrote in aren’t immediately recognizable. Chuck Smith? Erik Dixon? Gary Watkins? Others, such as “Meatballs and pug” and “Limberbutt McCubbins,” become clear with a Google search. (Meatballs is a canine internet sensation, and Limberbutt is a cat who waged a social media campaign with the slogan “Meow is the time.”) Another satirical candidate, Deez Nuts, received a respectable 19 votes.
▪ One of the few celestial objects to receive a vote for president in Wake County, “Sweet Meteor O’Death,” also waged a satirical social media campaign for president, offering up an “extinction-level asteroid impact” as an alternative to Trump and Clinton. For one voter, that sounded like the best option.