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Hawaiʻi lacks a write-in voting option, here's why

By: Liam Thropp

1 December, 2020

Historically, write-in candidates are more likely to succeed in a local or state election. In a national election, however, a write-in candidate might obtain less than a percent of the vote, as a write-in candidate has never won a U.S. election. The 2016 general election contained 0.51% vote for write-in candidates, whereas in 2012 it was at 0.11%, according to Federal Election Commission records. 

 

Write-in voting in certain states is on the rise due for this election, due to a decline of trust in political institutions. But will it succeed in the polls? Statistically, it will not.

 

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Infographic: Hawaiʻi is one of nine U.S. States which do not offer a write-in option on their general election ballots. (Illustrated by Liam Thropp/ Hō‘a O‘ahu)

Legislation upheld in the case of Burdick v. Takushi in 1992 sustained the movement to keep write-in voting off the ballot. Civilian protesting and slandering of election proceedings prompted the state to remove the option entirely.

 

“It’s not an option for the ability to write in a candidate,” said Anthony Higa, Election Official for the State of Hawai’i Office of Elections. “You would never see it on the state election ballot for the primaries here.”

The Supreme Court ruling implied that they did not want to use the ballot as an advertisement for citizen hatred towards the electoral system itself. 

“We discern no adequate basis for our requiring the state to provide and to finance a place on the ballot for recording protests against its constitutionally valid election laws,” Higa said.

 

But is this decision lawful? According to the U.S. Constitution, it certainly is. If election conflicts are “imposing reasonable only burdens” on the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of citizens, it is constitutional. Justices claim that a write-in vote is simply a way to, “publish individual protests against the election system.”

 

Voters nationwide are disillusioned with candidates on this year’s ballot, supporting the use for a write-in option. Voters in Oregon have begun a campaign for Bernie Sanders as a write-in option, along with a significant write-in campaign for writer and activist Teressa Raiford to become Portland’s mayor. But what are the chances of a write-in candidate actually winning an election?

"I Voted" stickers ready to be passed out at a ballot center (Courtesy U.S. Embassy of Chile, CC 2.0).

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