In every election, citizens from all over Guilford County go into voting booths and participate in the very serious act of casting ballots to elect their leaders.
Well, it’s “serious” for the most part: In elections – including the most recent one – there are always some voters who get into the booth, see the tempting blank space for write-in votes in some of the races and decide to use that option for something other than its intended purpose.
Often, people use the write-in blank for purposes of humor, creative expression or self-promotion. Some voters use the space to make a political statement, while others do things like cast a vote for a long-admired former politician, dead or alive.
The Guilford County Board of Elections has now compiled the write-in votes from the Tuesday, Nov. 7 election and some voters used the ballot-offered method of self expression for interesting ends.
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan was reelected but some voters didn’t want her – or her opponent, Diane Moffett. Write-in votes were cast for Elmo, Pip the dog, Miss Babe Ruth (and Ms. Babe Ruth), Greensboro Downtown Inc. President Zack Matheny, the website inforwars.com, Rhino Times Editor John Hammer, his niece Sophie Hammer, former Guilford County Commissioner and Greensboro City Councilmember Mary Rakestraw, current Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes and many other folks.
Of course, perennial write-in star Mickey Mouse got votes for Greensboro mayor as well – but what’s surprising is that, this year, Mickey, who usually does very well in the write-in category, only got three votes.
President Donald Trump got two write-in votes for Greensboro mayor, though some would consider it a demotion to go from president of the United States to to mayor of Greensboro. Former President “Oboma” got a vote as well. (Unlike most modern computers, there is no spell-check function on the county’s election machines.)
One voter wanted “Any One Else” as Greensboro’s mayor, but others preferred “No Confidence” and “None of the above.”
Former Greensboro Mayors John Forbis, Robbie Perkins and Bill Knight each got votes. Mysteriously missing from the mayoral votes was former Mayor Jim Melvin, who usually shows up in these tallies.
Vaughan even got a write-in vote for Greensboro mayor although her name was on the ballot.
Craig Fox, who has worked in the Guilford County elections office for 29 years, helps tabulates the write-in votes each election. He said there does seem to be some difference between the write-in votes this year and in previous years.
“I think the likelihood is less that they will write in Disney characters,” Fox said.
He said that, in the past there’s been a barrage of completely “silly” entries but in this election there seem to be less of that type of vote. Mostly this year, it’s real people rather than fictional characters, and in many cases the votes were cast for actual candidates – albeit ones that didn’t make it onto the ballot.
In this election, a lot of write-in votes in the Greensboro mayor’s race went to local blogger Billy Jones, who put his name out there as a candidate, and to John Brown, a Republican contender who lost in the primary.
For anyone looking for their 15 minutes of fame in the form of certified election results, in Guilford County the magic number of votes needed is five. When someone gets five or more votes, their name is included in the final count passed on to the Guilford County Board of Elections for approval.
Some races allow write-in votes while others do not. If it’s a non-partisan race, such as the Greensboro City Council race, there will be a write-in blank on the ballot.
A partisan race will have that option as well if at least one want-to-be candidate not on the ballot has collected enough signatures and filed his or her intent to run with the appropriate elections office. Only a candidate who has collected enough signatures is eligible to be certified as the winner of a partisan write-in race, though, of course, voters are free to write in whatever names they want.
The number of signatures needed to be considered a qualified write-in candidate for a race varies depending on the office being sought. For instance, someone vying to be a write-in candidate for North Carolina governor would have to collect 500 verified signatures from within the state, while a person wanting to take a county office, such as county commissioner, would have to collect 100 signatures. In races where the number of registered voters for an office is below 5,000, the number of signatures needed is 1 percent of the total number of registered voters who can vote for that office.
But many times voters don’t care why a write-in blank is on the ballot – they’re just happy to have the chance to freestyle it in an election booth.
In the Greensboro City Council races, votes were cast for LeBron, Go Go Gobana, Any Republican Candidate, Trump sucks, and, in District 4, “No-Meaningful-Choice Here Ether.” That write-in vote was the longest entry in this election and that voter clearly got tired by the end of entering it since the hyphenation disappeared, as did any effort to spell correctly.
Miss Lou Lou Gehrig got a vote for City Council as well. (Though dogs are not imaginary, they are not allowed to serve if elected, even if they have created a great deal of good will in the community by helping cheer on the local baseball team.)
Guilford County Board of Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said that, as long as write-in votes don’t affect a race, he only reads them after things calm down.
“I’m too busy,” he said of the time right after an election. “Later, I’ll read them in the Rhino Times.”
Collicutt said spelling can be a factor, and in North Carolina, he said, election officials try to discern voter intent. If a variation of a name is close enough to determine, the vote will be counted for that person.
In the Jamestown mayor’s race, about 160 write-in votes were cast for Robert Frederick, Rob Fredericks, Bob Frederick and similar variations.
Robert Frederick is a digital managing editor for American Scientist magazine who is married to a High Point University professor. He lost in the primary but then pursued a write-in candidacy for Jamestown mayor on a platform of growing the town while maintaining its small town charm.
Collicutt and the elections office does, of course, pay close attention when write-in votes might play a role in the outcome. On Nov. 7, in the Sedalia Town Council race, there were two candidates running for three open seats, so write-in candidate Clarence Meachem won that third seat with 20 write-in votes. Two other write-in candidates in that race amassed five votes each.
In the High Point mayor’s race, some voters used the opportunity to express opposition to the downtown stadium project meant to revitalize that city’s downtown. Write-in votes were cast for “No stadium” and “Against the Stadium.” Also, Vaughan got a vote for High Point mayor; however, High Point Mayor Bill Bencini, who wasn’t running for reelection, didn’t get any votes for Greensboro mayor.
In Whitsett, apparently there’s no great urge to write in votes. This election, only one write-in vote for that town council was cast – one for Homer Moser.