Results gleaned from the Ottawa County Clerk’s Office show a few strange write-in votes.
"There were some odd write-in candidates listed on ballots during the November election,” said the county's election coordinator, Justin Roebuck.
A Freedom of Information Act request of the City of Grand Haven resulted in samplings of write-in votes from precincts 2 and absentee ballots from precinct 3, where some voters penciled in names not listed on the ballot. These included Buffett, cartoon characters Mickey Mouse and Nigel Thornberry for county sheriff, Donald Duck for county prosecutor, and Radiohead front man Thom Yorke for Congress.
Voters also decided to put candidates running for one office in another race.
On some ballots, there were votes for President Barack Obama for the 10th District County Commissioner seat and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as county drain commissioner. Others put Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra in the county treasurer’s seat.
Only a small portion of the write-in votes went toward actual candidates.
“Because the law does not allow for any write-in candidates to be counted unless they have first filed a Write-In Candidate Declaration of Intent by the appropriate deadline prior to the election date, none of the odd or fake write-ins were recorded,” Roebuck said.
Roebuck said the unrecorded names were left on the ballots and sealed along with the rest of the voted ballots on election night.
“Unfortunately, because of the security measures taken to seal and store the voted ballots, there is no way to see the invalid write-in candidates at this point,” he explained. “The only way to open the ballot container during the retention period is in the case of a recount that is requested by a candidate.”
And since the invalid write-in names are not considered legal candidates, they cannot request a recount.
Official election results from the clerk’s office show that 747 write-in votes in Ottawa County were cast for presidential candidates. However, only 302 write-in votes were actually counted: 301 for Gary Johnson and one for Stewart Alexander.
Additionally, 93 write-in votes were cast in the county for Senate candidates this past November, but none were for any of the official write-in candidates.
In order for those candidates to be officially recognized as write-ins, they have to file an affidavit by two Fridays before the election.
Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said this write-in filing law has been in place for some time.
“It certainly has been in existence for the past two election cycles,” he said.
Woodhams said the law helps to limit who can and can’t be written into office.
“It would limit it to people who want to be elected,” he said.
Roebuck noted that because of the filing law, election workers are only on the lookout for valid write-in candidates on election night and nothing else.
“There is not much extra time taken for the tabulation process, because what happens is that votes are tabulated immediately when a voter puts their ballot in the machine,” he said. “The ballot bin has a lever that will move when the software on the tabulator recognizes a write-in oval filled in, and that arm diverts the write-in ballots to one side of the ballot bin.”
Roebuck said that the most time-consuming part of the write-in process comes at the end of the night when election workers empty the write-in bin and go over each ballot to count the valid votes.
“Once the votes for valid write-in candidates are tallied, the workers record the number of votes in the poll book,” he said.
The Ottawa County Board of Canvassers then determines the validity of each write-in vote. Roebuck said they are instructed to count anything within reason.
The Board of Canvassers is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, appointed by the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners.
“In the event that the spelling of a particular write-in name is controversial, the board will vote on whether or not to accept the spelling and count it as a vote,” Roebuck said. “Generally, anything within reason is accepted — but write-ins should at least include an attempt at the candidate's last name.”
Sample of absentee “candidates” voted for during the November 2012 election. Names are from Grand Haven’s Precinct 2 and Absentee Precinct 3.
Clerk/Register of Deeds
Julie Ann Ely
10th District Commissioner
9th District Commissioner
Supreme Court Justice
State Board of Education
Court of Appeals
20th Circuit Court
58th District Court
MSU Board of Trustees
UM Board of Regents
Wayne State Board of Governors
Grand Haven School Board