Imagine an election when you could vote for anyone you wanted. In parts of America, you can – simply by writing a name on the ballot paper. But if millions of disillusioned people voted for someone like Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, could he actually become president? It’s a quirk of the American election system. Voters are allowed to “write in” candidates who aren’t officially running for the top job when they go to the polls. They simply write the name on the ballot. Mickey Mouse is a US favourite. Donald Duck often pops up in Scandinavia. God and Me are other perennial picks. Every year there are more serious protest votes. The name of a vice-presidential nominee, or an independent, for example. But it’s rare for senators or congressmen to shun their party’s presidential nominee and write in a totally different candidate. The 1932 New York mayoral race was perhaps the first election where Mickey Mouse appeared This year, at least three Republicans have said they will write in the name of Mr Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, after a 2005 video tape in which the Republican candidate made obscene remarks about women emerged.
Former presidential hopeful John McCain said he might write in senator Lindsey Graham. Mr McCain has been written in by Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich.
It’s not just a Republican thing. Some discontented Democrats have said they will write in former contender Bernie Sanders.
But could write-in votes really make a difference?
Rogers Smith, an expert in constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania, says the odds of a write-in candidate becoming the next US president are about the same as the winning candidate “rowing across the Atlantic in a one-person rowboat and calling upon the Queen”. Only seven states automatically count write-in votes – Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Iowa, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.