How to run as a write-in candidate

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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Running for political office involves meeting registration deadlines, registering with the Kentucky Registry for Election Finance (KREF), raising campaign funds, and then, of course, trying to get the votes to win. 

While most people file with a political party or as an independent, some candidates opt to be write-in candidates, meaning that their name does not appear on the physical ballot and that any voters for them must have their name physically written on them by voters. The rules for write-in candidates are different from traditional candidates, but they must still follow some important guidelines. 

The deadline to file as a write-in candidate is October 28, said Michon Lindstrom, communications director for Secretary of State Michael Adams. “Candidates for statewide office, congressional seats, or judicial seats will file with our office. Local candidates file with the county clerk,” Lindstrom said.

The deadline to register as a traditional, non write-in candidate was Jan. 25 for partisan races or campaigns that could require a primary. The deadline for non-primary and non-partisan elections, like some city councils and all boards of education, is Tuesday, June 7.

Would-be write-in candidates can’t simply run and be write-in candidates – they have to follow the rules, which differ by state. There are currently three candidates registered as write-in candidates in Kentucky, but none of them are in Northern Kentucky. 

“Write-in votes shall be counted only for candidates for election to office who have filed a declaration of intent to be a write-in candidate with the Secretary of State or county clerk, depending on the office being sought, on or before the fourth Friday in October preceding the date of the regular election and not later than the second Friday before the date of a special election,” the Kentucky statute reads.

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If a write-in candidate plans to raise money, they must file with KREF, just like a candidate running for a political party. They must also make sure to still meet the guidelines to run for specific seats. 

“Anyone that meets the eligibility for the seat can file as a write-in,” Lindstrom said. 

Why do people vote for write-in candidates?

In most cases, it comes down to the popularity of candidates. Ahead of the 2016 election, the Washington Post noted that write-in votes had increased fivefold since 1984. The article also stated that because state law varies, write-in candidates typically do better on the local or state level. 

In 2018, the write-in votes led to a tie for the Crescent Springs City Council. Both candidates received 79 write-in votes. This led to a coin toss between Patrick Hackett and Jeannine Bell Smith to determine who won the sixth seat. Hackett ultimately won the seat after Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn tossed the coin. No other races were impacted by write-in candidates. 

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