When 11 Travis County voters scribbled in "Mickey Mouse" for president on their ballots in November, the cartoon character didn't get any closer to becoming the first animated leader of the most powerful nation in the world. After all, counties don't count write-in votes for uncertified candidates.
In every presidential election, hundreds of names are written in by voters who choose not to vote for a major candidate. Among those names is a trove of living and deceased politicians, fictional characters and popular personalities. That trend continued in Texas in 2012.
It was no surprise that onetime GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul received write-in votes in his home state in the presidential election, despite never registering as a write-in candidate. What was not as predictable were the others who joined him on the lists of uncertified and thus uncounted votes: Willie Nelson, Clark Kent and Socrates.
No matter what, each of those write-in votes was recorded as a vote for nobody.
While eight states do not allow write-in votes in federal elections, in Texas anyone eligible can file as an official write-in candidate. They only need to get the signatures of 38 individuals to serve as presidential electors, individuals who would cast votes in the Electoral College should they win a majority of the popular vote in Texas. This process saves the candidate from needing the 80,778 signatures required to make it on the ballot. The certification process assures that candidates who are ineligible — or do not exist — cannot be counted during vote tallying.
But voters do not always follow the guidelines. "Sometimes they just scribble or put Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse,” said El Paso County Elections Administrator Javier Chaco. Some voters chose to write in a major candidate name, rather than check the box next to Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
Election administrators in Texas cannot count these votes. “Every step is governed by the Texas election code,” said Hector DeLeon, a spokesman for the Harris County clerk’s office. Votes for “people, places, and things” that are not official candidates are recorded in election reports as "under votes," or contests that were skipped by the voter, he said.
In contrast, when people vote for more than one candidate, they are not able to submit the ballot. High numbers of "under votes" are sometimes seen as evidence of a problem with voting machines.
In other states, though, they’ve been seen as a political statement all their own. An independent website organized a 2012 campaign to write in votes for Jesus Christ. In Georgia, an unopposed congressman named Paul Broun had openly doubted the theory of evolution. He won the election, but found that 4,000 voters had written down an uncertified opponent: Charles Darwin.
The Texas Tribune obtained lists of uncertified names receiving write-in votes in Travis and Tarrant counties. Officials in Dallas, Bexar and Harris counties could not provide the lists of uncertified write-in candidates because their electronic voting systems do not keep the names. “We mark it as uncertified on our tally sheets but not what it is,” explained Jana Onyon of the Dallas County Elections Department.
By far, the largest share of the write-in votes in Tarrant and Travis county votes went to Paul. Including misspellings of his name, Paul received 433 votes in Tarrant County and 1,291 in Travis County. Here’s the list of the top 10 uncertified write-in candidates in the two counties, taking into account multiple spellings and versions of the same name.
- Ron Paul: 1,291
- Jesus Christ: 31
- Hillary Clinton: 30
- Jon Huntsman: 23
- Willie Nelson: 14
- Mickey Mouse: 11
- Some version of "nobody": 11
- Vermin Supreme: 11
- Tie: Ralph Nader, Bill Clinton: 8
- Ron Paul: 433
- Jesus Christ: 49
- Hillary Clinton: 33
- Rick Santorum: 21
- Mike Huckabee: 15
- Colin Powell: 9
- Willie Nelson: 8
- Newt Gingrich: 4
- Tie: Big Bird, Jon Huntsman, Sarah Palin: 3
Ten other notable write-in candidates who received fewer than five votes in Tarrant and Travis counties:
- Tupac Shakur
- Clark Kent
- Elvis Presley
- Henry Rollins
- Jon Stewart
- Slavoj Zizek
- Candy Crowley
- Chuck Norris