Is there anything more quixotic than a write-in campaign? Wins are rare, happening once or twice every few election cycles out of thousands of races. When it does happen, it’s almost always someone who has high name recognition, and it more often than not involves some strange situations such as where one of the candidates has dropped out of the race.
To their credit, some write-in candidates in Utah did pretty well last night, considering. The most well-known one, Bill Freeze, managed about 28% of the total vote for Utah County Commission. The write-in candidates for Iron County Sheriff and Clerk managed to get into the high teens. All of them had signs, public endorsements, everything you’d think a campaign would need.
Well, almost everything.
The tricky thing about write-in campaigns is that if your name isn’t on the ballot, you have to be well-known enough that people think to write it down. It’s a lot easier for people to see your name already on the ballot, recognize it, and mark it. For every Murkowski, there are dozens of candidates who can’t build that kind of traction.
In the case of the three write-in candidates above, all of them were relative unknowns. Two of them were write-in candidates because they didn’t secure their party’s nomination, one of them popped up because people realized after the nomination process that they picked a possible turkey. In all of their cases, they probably would have fared better if they had been able to get their name on the ballot.
This issue of ballot access is one I’ve addressed before. If candidates who don’t secure their party’s nomination have the option to still run as unaffiliated, they have a better shot in the general election. If there’s a bad nomination at the party level, there’s still a safety valve for someone else to run. Why we insist on limiting our ballot choices so artificially is beyond me.