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U.S. Supreme Court Won't Hear Case on Whether Jurisdictions Must Count Write-in Votes for Declared Write-in Presidential Candidates

Published on March 18, 2013, by in General.

On March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Libertarian Party v District of Columbia Board of Elections, 12-836. The party had complained in 2008 that even though its presidential nominee, Bob Barr, held completed the paperwork to become a declared write-in presidential candidate in D.C. (he was the only presidential candidate who did so), the Board of Elections refused to count his write-ins. Both the U.S. District Court, and the U.S. Court of Appeals, had ruled against the party, saying the government’s interest in saving money and energy was more important than the principle that all voters are entitled to have their valid votes counted.

UPDATE: an attorney for the D.C. Board of Elections wants readers to know that all write-in votes for president are valid, and that if a write-in candidate for President received a plurality, he or she could appoint presidential elector candidates after the election was over. Also the Board says that the vote-counting equipment does not automatically sort out the ballots with write-ins from ballots without them, so in order to count the write-ins, every single ballot would need to be looked at by a human being.

On June 26, 1975, a local District of Columbia court, in Kamins v Board of Elections of D.C., had issued an order, “1. Ordered, that the defendant, the Board of Elections, provide a line on the ballot for President and Vice President of the United States marked write-in candidates. 2. That the defendant, the Board of Elections, count the names of write-in candidates for President of the United States; provided, however, the said write-in candidate has a qualified slate of electors whose names and affidavits have been filed with the Board; 3. That the Defendant promulgate a regulation to provide for one and two above.” The D.C. Board obeyed the part of the order putting write-in space on the ballot, but has never obeyed the part that says the write-ins should be counted. When the Libertarian Party filed a lawsuit in 2008, the lawsuit was filed in the D.C. court system, not the federal system.

But the D.C. Board of Elections had the case removed to the federal court system, and the federal courts seemed to give no consideration to the point that the D.C. courts had already ruled that write-ins for declared presidential candidates must be counted. The evidence in this case showed that presidential write-ins are sometimes substantial. Both Ralph Nader in 2004 and Eugene McCarthy in 1976 received over 10% of their recorded votes from write-ins. The evidence also showed that 42 states have provided official tallies of write-in votes for presidential candidates. If 42 states have managed to count such write-ins, there seems to be no practical reason why D.C. can’t do it, especially since it is easier for D.C. than for states, because election administration in D.C. is completely centralized.

In more U.S. Supreme Court news, the Court did not say whether it will hear James v FEC, 12-683, a case concerning the limit that an individual may donate to all federal candidates, parties, and PACS. Federal law has a limit on how much money an individual may donate to all three of those entities in any two-year period. The individual who filed the case wants to make contributions up to the limit, but she wants her contributions to all go to a great many candidates, and she doesn’t want to donate to any political party or PAC. The lower courts upheld the law that only lets part of her contributions go to candidates.

4 Responses

  1. ken in st. l., mo

    Let’s see if I have this right: The Supremes are letting stand two (stupid) lower-court rulings that in-effect say that the DC government can save a little bit of (unspecified) money by letting the Barr campaign needlessly spend time and money filing for write-in status and then promoting their legitimate write-in candidacy that won’t be counted! Not to mention some voters wasted time to trudge to the polls and actually write in Barr’s name.
    I would hope that somewhere along the line a court at least demanded that the DC government show proof of the estimated amount of money it was saving and what percentage of its overall election budget that would be.
    Would DC allow an outside group (journalistic, academic, or non-profit), such as Ballot Access News or COFOE, to reimburse DC for ballot counting or actually just count the ballots themselves?
    Some progressive group should heavily lobby the DC council to pass a bill that mandates the following sentence be inserted on both the application for write-in status and by the blank space on their election ballots for write-ins:
    “Warning – write-in votes may not be counted.”

  2. Richard Winger

    During the lawsuit, the Board said anyone could file a freedom of information request to look at the ballots. Most jurisdictions with paper ballots use vote-counting equipment that automatically separates out ballots with a write-in, from ballots without a write-in. That way, it is easy to pick out the ballots with write-ins and see which candidates received write-in votes, and tally them. Unfortunately the D.C. Board of Elections uses equipment that can’t do that, so anyone who filed a freedom of information request would need to look at all 300,000 or so ballots.

  3. Demo Rep

    The Devil City EVIL moron Stone Age regime can not get updated scanners to separate out ballots with write in votes ???

  4. Arthur C. Barker

    And how does the “government’s interest in saving money and energy” compare to holding an election at all?

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