Every Election Day, there are those who turn out to the polls to cast a vote for people who is not on their ballots. And it's no secret that dissatisfaction rates with major-party candidates were high in 2016, so we may have expected a larger number to opt for writing someone in this time around. So, how many write-in candidate voters were there in 2016?
The answer is not only complicated, but there isn't a precise one. In many states, you can't write-in a candidate — or rather, you can write it in but that vote won't be counted. Ergo, we can't really track in those states which third-party candidates received votes or how many they received. In Arkansas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota, write-in voting is not permitted. Then, 32 other states require write-in candidates to be registered in advance, so if you write-in a candidate who is not pre-registered, your vote may not be counted. As Aja Romano at Vox noted, "The vast majority of write-in votes are rarely counted, and each state handles the matter differently."
In 2012, the number of write-in voters came out to 136,040 people. Those folks accounted for 0.11 percent of voters in that election. The totals of write-in voters aren't available yet, but there are unofficial results at the state level. For example, in New York, write-in voters counted for .85 percent of th state electorate. In Virginia, write-in voters made up .76 percent of the electorate. While those two states suggest the total percentage of write-in voters is higher in 2016, they have to be averaged with all the states that don't permit write-in votes.
Concerns about write-in votes not counting didn't stop some people from launching some relatively prominent write-in campaigns this election cycle. In fact, there was a push to wage a massive write-in campaign for Bernie Sanders, with the aim of denying both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump the 270 electoral votes needed to win, posing an unlikely supposed second shot for the Vermont senator. And latecomer independent Evan McMullin has made write-in-based voting a prominent part of his campaign.
Others, like New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, said they'd write in Donald Trump's running mate, Mike Pence (Ayotte herself lost her Senate seat Tuesday night to Maggie Hassan). And yet other voters went for some of the sillier options in 2016, including "Mickey Mouse," one of the 100 or so names under which paperwork was filed with the Federal Elections Commission to be considered a write-in candidate.
Aside from some hardcore Sanders supporters on the left and McMullinites on the right, it seems like write-in voters weren't a make-or-break-it group. Third-party voters, though, are another story. MSNBC's Steve Benen noted "if Jill Stein’s supporters and half of Gary Johnson’s backers had voted Democratic," Clinton would have won, and if the same had occurred in Pennsylvania, Clinton would have won, as well.