It has never been easy for political hopefuls, feline or otherwise, to run a successful write-in campaign. But in Fairfax County at least, residents used to be able to get an exact tally of all the names voters penciled onto their ballots. Election officials painstakingly recorded all the names of those real and imagined, from Donald Duck to Darth Vader.
But the county no longer performs that time-consuming ritual. Virginia’s State Board of Elections does not add up how many write-in votes any individual candidates get, nor do other county and city boards. Some don’t record votes for nonhuman or nonexistent candidates.
But a Washington Post review of records from Hank’s own Springfield District, which covers 29 precincts in Fairfax, found that the kitty got at least 13 votes — and possibly 20 more — out of 155 total write-in votes and 54,000 cast overall in the Senate race. Eight of the votes came from Hank’s home precinct — Pohick. (For the record, Democrat Timothy M. Kaine won the Senate seat and Republican George Allen came in second.)
If Hank got the same 0.0006 percent of the statewide vote that he did in his home district, which seems unlikely, then he received roughly 2,000 votes overall. O’Leary originally estimated that Hank might have drawn thousands more.
“We’re still happy with it,” O’Leary said when told of the results in Springfield. “I think it’s great to see that he’s had such support. I also know that supporting Hank and actually writing him in are two different things.”
Although write-ins are considered by some a waste of time, they are also part of a broader, long-standing American tradition of expressing dissent at the ballot box.
In Georgia this year, Charles Darwin reportedly got 4,000 write-in votes against Rep. Paul C. Broun (R), who made pre-election news by saying that evolution and the big-bang theory were “lies straight from the pit of hell.” In Tennessee, David “None of the Above” Gatchell — his legal name — has run unsuccessfully for several offices.
And in Nevada, voters have the option of choosing a line that says “none of these candidates” on their ballots, despite legal efforts by the Republican Party to remove it. That option drew more than 45,000 votes in this year’s Senate contest, in which Sen. Dean Heller (R) defeated Rep. Shelley Berkley (D) by fewer than 10,000 votes.
Then there was the Maryland man who changed his name to Santa Claus and ran as a write-in for president. He got 625 votes this year.
Some write-in campaigns have been known to work. Anthony A. Williams won a write-in campaign for the District’s Democratic mayoral nomination in 2002. Though he was the incumbent, his campaign had failed to file enough valid signatures to make the primary ballot.