Most candidates for public office in Pennsylvania secure their place on the ballot by following the traditional path. They circulate nomination petitions, collect the requisite signatures by statutorily required deadlines and run in the primary—and, if successful, then the general election.
However, there is an alternate and less frequently used way to run for office: the write-in campaign. Judging from last week’s primary election results, write-in campaigns are no longer reserved for phantom candidates like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse. Whether it’s an anomaly or emerging trend, the recent success of several write-in campaigns make it worth taking more than a glancing look at this tactic.
By running as a write-in candidate in a primary election, the candidate can bypass traditional requirements to get his or her name on the ballot but must receive at least 300 votes to be named a candidate for the state’s House of Representatives and 500 votes to be named as a candidate for the state Senate.
A candidate can also run in the general election as a write-in and bypass not only the circulation and nomination requirements but the hassle of running in the primary election. Just like any candidate on the ballot, the write-in candidate will assume the office for which he is running as long as he received at least one vote more than the other candidates.
Though the write-in candidate is rarely successful, the write-in campaign seems to becoming more popular in Pennsylvania. In the March 2014 special election for the state senate seat vacated due to the retirement of Sen. Mike Waugh, Republican Scott Wagner became the first person in history to win a Senate seat by staging a successful write-in campaign.
The write-in option has also caused a few 2014 post-primary wrinkles. Incumbent Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon) lost his bid for reelection in the Republican primary to write-in candidate Richard Irvin; however Fleck was able to stage a successful write-in campaign of his own to win the bid on the Democratic ticket.
Incumbent Rep. Justin Simmons (R-Lehigh/Northampton) did not have an opponent in his own Republican primary but will face Democratic challenger Michael Beyer in the fall. Beyer had filed to run in his primary the “traditional” way but was tossed off the ballot as the result of a challenge to his nomination papers. But for Beyer’s successful write-in campaign, Simmons would have sailed through his general election unopposed, locking up his seat for another term.
Finally, Lebanon County Republican Russ Diamond is facing a different kind of election due to a write-in effort. Diamond was the only person to successfully file petitions to run for the 102nd state house seat on either side. On paper, it looked like Diamond would be able to lock up this race without running much of a campaign. Although Diamond was able to defeat write-in candidate Wanda Bechtold in the Republican primary, Jake Long ran a successful Democratic write-in campaign and will challenge Diamond in the general election. So what was thought to be a race that would sail straight through turns out to be a competitive seat this fall.
Write-in votes are an anomaly, and they can take some time to tally. County officials must carefully review write-in votes and discern what might be illegible handwriting. The final count for all votes is due to the Department of State by June 11. Though unlikely, it’s possible that another write-in candidate will surface. Stay tuned. In the meantime, we can’t help but wonder how this year’s write-in success stories may have on future election cycles and the impact they may have on Pennsylvania’s political landscape.