The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Hundreds of thousands of Americans cast a ballot without voting for a presidential candidate

President-elect Donald Trump held what senior adviser Kellyanne Conway called a “reset” meeting for members of the media at Trump Tower on Monday. (Video: Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

Nevada makes it simple.

Voters in Nevada are given a choice for each race on the ballot: Candidate A, Candidate B or “none of the above,” a formal protest vote that is more or less popular depending on who candidates A and B are. In 2012, 5,770 Nevadans chose “none of the above” over Mitt Romney or President Obama, a total equaling 0.57 percent of all presidential votes cast. Obama won the state easily.

In 2016, however, the results were more stark. More than 2.5 percent of the ballots cast for president in the state were “none of the above” — 28,863 in total in a race that Hillary Clinton won by 27,207.

Enough protest votes to have swung the results of the election.

There are protest votes in other states, too, of course; they just aren't given space on the ballot. In most places these are called “undervotes,” ballots that are cast without a vote for the person at the top of the ticket.

In California, for example, the most recent numbers (with a lot of votes outstanding) have 12.5 million ballots cast in the state with 12.1 million cast in the presidential race. That is nearly a half-million ballots without a presidential pick, 3.6 percent of the total.

The figures are lower in other states. In Oklahoma, about 1 percent of the ballots were undervotes, although elections officials note that the number of undervotes jumped from 8,161 in 2012 to 15,931 this year. In Ohio, about 2 percent of the ballots didn't include a pick for the presidency. In Cuyahoga County — home of Cleveland — the director of the Board of Elections said that the undervote was “one of the highest under-vote rates in a presidential election that I've seen.” In Florida, 1.67 percent of ballots returned didn't include a vote for president, some 160,000 in total.

In North Carolina, the figure was lower, according to the state. Only about 0.58 percent of ballots there didn't include a presidential pick.

The caveat hanging over this is that votes are still being counted in some places (including California). But data from the U.S. Election Atlas indicates a shift by another metric.

If we compare how many votes were cast for U.S. Senate races in states with the number of presidential ballots cast, the latter number is usually higher. (More people pay attention to and care about the presidential race, after all.) In 2008, less than a third of Senate races had 98 percent as many ballots cast as were cast for one of the presidential candidates. In 2012, about half of Senate contests did. This year? Nearly two-thirds of the Senate contests were within 2 percent of the number of presidential ballots cast.

There's another way in which people can protest the presidential options, of course: Writing in random people. Last week, we looked at write-in tallies in Vermont, where the pope, Jesus, Bill Nye and Sarah Palin all got votes.

In Missouri, the secretary of state's website indicates that the most write-in votes were cast not for Evan McMullin (the best-known independent candidate for president) but instead for a guy named Marshall Schoenke, who is probably fairly easily identifiable in any photo.

The state indicates that Schoenke got 11,500 write-in votes. (Incredulous at that success, I've emailed the secretary of state to verify.) That's nearly as many votes for Schoenke in Missouri as Donald Trump got in the District.

Now that is how you do a protest vote.