Think Your Write-In Doesn’t Matter? Guess Again…

Beware the write-in. In the recent May primary in Philadelphia, Drexel student Matthew Clewley won one of two executive committee seats in Ward 24, Division 10, the Powelton Village. What makes Clewley victory all the more impressive? He only needed two votes to do so.

The fact that this election only counted three votes only compliments the circumstances of Clewley’s two-vote win. One vote separated Clewley from Gavriel Blaxberg, a fellow student at Drexel, who won the second executive committee seat. The only other votes in this election: the nullified ones cast for the infamous Harambe.

Guidelines to Consider when Writing In on a Ballot

The anomalies of this local election provides incite for the often not discussed process of writing in names on ballots. Understanding what a proper write-in lends itself to major swings in elections. Take the recently newsworthy, Roseanne Barr, who in the 2012 US Presidential Election, finished in sixth place with 67,326 votes. Barr who, represented the Peace and Freedom Party, campaigned mostly online. She petitioned onto the ballots in California, Colorado, and Florida. For her supporters in other states, they had to write in their votes. It’s likely that a segment of her supporters wrote in “Roseanne” on their ballot sheets; in Philadelphia, this would cause those votes, like Harambe’s to be nullified.

How to properly write in a ballot

Registering (National Elections)

Regarding national elections, only 10 states (and D.C.) allow for write-in votes to be considered without a candidate pre-registering in the state. Pennsylvania and California  do not necessitate prior filing for unregistered candidate’s write-in votes to count. Furthermore, the Golden State requires only 55 signatures for someone to become an official write-in candidate. Eight states do not allow write in options on ballots. Because of this, these states hold the lowest number of candidates on average in the recent election.


When voting in Philly, it’s important to know your write-in candidate’s name that they use when they registered. While “Harambe” and ‘“Roseanne” are recognizable names, voting offices would not recognize these write-ins unless voter registration recognizes the corresponding candidate by their first name only. Harambe’s case brings up an important note: voting offices may declare a write-in vote ineligible, but cannot deny election results because a candidate is not registered to vote. For Blaxberg, who received the same number of votes as Harambe, an ineligible write-in settled the tie and inevitably secured him the seat.


Part of why it is important to be specific when writing in on a ballot is because of the consolidation process. After people finish casting votes, election officials examine the write-in ballots to ensure that they are accrediting each write-in candidate all of their votes. If  another registered voter in the region has the same first name, as the write-in candidate and the write-in only included the candidates first name, officials cannot determine who the vote was intended for. As a result, the officials may void the vote.