ATLANTA -- Georgia voters unhappy with their choices on the November ballot may consider writing in the name of someone they like better, but they can’t select someone like Karen Handel or Thurbert Baker if they want their votes counted.
The flood of negative campaign ads are designed to weaken support for the established candidates, and experts say they usually work. As a result, candidates who lost the primary like Handel and Baker may look more attractive in hindsight than the nominees.
Only qualified candidates can have their write-in votes counted under Georgia law, eliminating the hassle of tallying up ballots for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and candidates who lost a primary can’t qualify for a write-in.
“The idea is you have to compete in the primary, you have to live by it and not take another bite at the apple,” said Chuck Bullock, political science professor at the University of Georgia.
That limits the choices in the governor’s race to the candidates whose names will appear on the ballots, Republican Nathan Deal, Democrat Roy Barnes and Libertarian John Monds, and the two who qualified as write-in candidates, David C Byrne of Kennesaw and Neal Horsley of Carrollton.
Qualifying for a write-in candidacy only requires sending a notice to the Secretary of State’s Office and running a legal ad in a newspaper.
Brian R. Brown of Augusta has done it three times. He ran for Congress in 2006, president two years later and U.S. Senate this year.
Although he doesn’t know how many votes he drew in previous years, he keeps running out of civic duty.
“It’s what I’m supposed to do. It’s what I believe in,” he said, adding that he’s campaigned a little around the state on a platform of ensuring everyone gets the disability payments they’re entitled to since he felt he didn’t get his.
Write-in candidates haven’t all been long shots. Some have impacted the outcome.
In 1946, Eugene Talmadge’s supporters worried he was too sick to take office if he won the governor’s race, so they mounted a write-in campaign for his son Herman. When Eugene died, the three-way race threw the decision into the House of Representatives which elected Herman. The Supreme Court eventually ruled that Lt. Gov.-elect Melvin Thompson was the rightful governor, but only after the controversy had played out across the country’s headlines.
Twenty years later, former-Gov. Ellis Arnall lost the Democratic primary to Lester Maddox, and then mounted a write-in campaign when it became clear Republicans had crossed over to help the segregationist Maddox win as the easier foe. Republican Bo Callaway did get the most votes, but since he fell short of a majority, that decision also wound up in the House where the dominant Democrats reluctantly picked Maddox.
“By not allowing a last-minute write-in campaign as Ellis Arnall did in 1966, you reduce the chance of there being a runoff,” Bullock said.
The first person elected to a major office as a write-in candidate was Strom Thurmond in South Carolina. He won a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1954 after having been a governor and having run for president against Harry Truman.
This year, South Carolina has a chance to repeat history as former-Georgian Nathalie Dupree mounts a write-in campaign for the Senate. The cookbook author and television-show host is serving as an vehicle for Democrats unhappy with their surprise nominee Alvin Greene or Republican nominee Jim DeMint.