What Are State Write-In Rules for Candidates?

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during a rally at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on October 10, 2016.DOMINICK REUTER

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By Zachary Roth

In response to the release of the 2005 tape showing Donald Trump making lewd comments about women, several prominent Republicans have said that instead of voting for him or Hillary Clinton, they’ll write in a candidate more to their liking.

GOP senators Kelly Ayotte, Rob Portman, and Cory Gardner all have said they plan to write in the name of Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence. Sen. John McCain has said he might write in his friend and fellow senator Lindsey Graham.

Talking about writing someone in might sound like a convenient option for Republican politicians who find themselves caught between swing voters and their base, thanks to Trump’s misogyny.

But, in many states, those votes won’t count.

Read: Decision 2016

Different states have different rules for write-in candidates, but they can be divided into three broad categories. Nine states—Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota—won’t accept any write-ins at all.

Then there’s a handful of states, including Ayotte’s New Hampshire, that have no requirements for write-in candidates. So all write-in votes are counted, whoever they’re cast for.

Most states, including Portman’s Ohio, Gardner's Colorado, and McCain’s Arizona, are in the middle: They accept write-in candidates, but require them to file paperwork ahead of time for their votes to be counted.

In many states, the deadline to file paperwork has already passed. Perhaps needless to say, neither Pence nor Graham has filed to be a write-in candidate anywhere.

Here’s a useful rundown of state requirements for write-in candidates, compiled by the site Ballotpedia.

And there is some precedent for write-in candidates.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski won re-eleciton to the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate in 2010 after losing the primary for the Republican nomination to a Tea Party backed candidate.