Elections

Exploring Camden County’s Presidential Write-Ins

Something that’s become tradition for me after election day is looking at the write-in report the Camden County Board of Elections puts out with every general election summary report. You get a unique look into the psyche of the electorate when they have a blank space to put in their best hopes and dreams, or perhaps whatever they’re randomly thinking about at the time. Some people wrote in protest votes of people they thought should have won their party’s nominations. Some people wrote in cartoon characters. Some just wrote messages to the poll workers, bless their volunteer hearts.

Looking through the data, you quickly learn that though the keyboard for writing in candidates is straightforward, it appears to be a bridge too far to correctly type in your candidate’s name; the typos in some names range from a few letters off to downright awful butcherings. (And one thing that’s especially clear is that the arrow buttons do not mean “space” in many people’s minds.) Perhaps the aging election machines need a looking over by whoever services them.

All told, there were 1,848 total write-in votes just for the office of president over 47 1/2 pages. They appear in all uppercase in the report and I wasn’t about to sentence-case all of them. So without further ado, here’re some notable write-ins and a collection of my favorites.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two most popular write-ins were the two more visible protest votes against each party’s nominee. BERNIE SANDERS received the most, with 555 votes, and EVAN MCMULLIN received 238. (A few people entered in EVEN MCMULLIN. I like that as an alternate to “even Steven.” “Did the game end 2-2? Let’s call it an Even McMullin.”) The next bunch of top vote-getters include people who didn’t win their party’s primary or those who didn’t run but who people talked about being a better choice. JOHN KASICH got 158, PAUL RYAN got 60, MICHAEL PENCE for 56, MARCO RUBIO got 30, MITT ROMNEY got 26, JOE  BIDEN got 24, JOHN MCCAIN got 21, TED CRUZ got 17, BEN CARSON got 13, RAND PAUL got 11, and JEB BUSH got 10 (poor Jeb! had a bad showing even among write-ins), CARLY FIORINA and CHRIS CHRISTIE each got 5, and JIM WEBB (remember that guy?) got 4.

Some people went through the trouble of typing in a candidate’s name that already appeared on the ballot. GARY JOHNSON, HILLARY CLINTON, DONALD J TRUMP, TED CRUZ, and JILL STEIN all appear in the write-in results, along with my favorite from this category, HILLARY TRUMP.

Then there were politicians or people in the political world who weren’t running at all (and each got under 10 votes): RAND PAUL, COLIN POWELL, RON PAUL, BEN SASSE, RICK SANTORUM, BARACK OBAMA, MICHELLE OBAMA, CONDOLEEZZA RICE, CORY BOOKER, SCOTT WALKER, AL GORE, MIKE HUCKABEE, MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, TULSI GABBARD and ELIZABETH WARREN.

And being dead didn’t stop you from being a write-in. Three people wrote in GEORGE WASHINGTON, and ABE LINCOLIN [sic] and CALVIN COOLIDGE got one vote each.

Then things start to take a turn for the random. I identified a few themes running through the results. There were athletes (CHARLES BARCLAY [sic], CARSON WENTZ, JON RUNYUN, PETE ROSE, MICHAEL TROUT), comedians (JIMMY FALLON, JOHN OLIVER, ELLEN DEGENERES, KEVIN HART), musicians (BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, EDDIE VEDDER, OZZY OSBOURNE, PAT BENATAR, ALICE COOPER), professional wrestlers (JOHN CENA, RIC FLAIR), and the largest group, actors (LIN MANUEL MIRANDA, TOM HANKS THE ACTOR (I love this one for its specificity), ALEC BALDWIN, BETTY WHITE, BILL MURRAY (two votes!), TOM SELLECK (also two votes!). There was perennial hopeful VERMIN SUPREME, and, amazingly, and spelled correctly, VLADIMIR PUTIN (though one might argue we got the next best thing). Though my favorite, out of all these spectacular choices, was GRANDPOP. Let’s all get behind GRANDPOP 2020.

Then there were the fictional characters. These include CTHULU, DONALD DUCK, KERMIT THE FROG, TINKERBELL, BIG BIRD, SNOOPY WWI HERO, SPONGEBOB, OPTIMUS PRIME, KING GHIDORAH (a “film monster that first appeared in the Toho’s 1964 film Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster”), and ICHIGO KUROSAKI (a “fictional character in the Bleach manga series”). MICKEY MOUSE did pretty well, all things considered; he got 14 total votes.

Finally, the category where people just write in random things. There’re some gems. Among them: COMCAST SUCKS, LORD HELP US, “MAY’GOD,HELP,US”, SOUTHPARK, FISH (fish), FUCK YOU, GIANT METEOR (two votes!), NO CONFIDENCE (many votes), GOD/JESUS/JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD/HOLY SPIRIT/IN GOD WE TRUST/ALLAH/MARY-MOTHER-OF-GOD/YESHUA THE MESSIAH (lots of people do this), HARAMBE, PEDRO (Vote for Pedro!) (naturally), and one of the best in this category, LUCY THE ELEPHANT.

Phew. It’s exhausting diving into the psyche of the write-in voter, but I’m not alone in my fascination with write-ins. The Courier Post also published a list of the more bizarre write-ins from every level of office, including favorites “Balthazar McNuggets” and the perennial write-in “Flapjacks A. Lobster”.

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Elections

Where are the primary challengers in the state Assembly election?

This article is being cross-posted to the site BlueJersey.com, the state’s “progressive source of news, political analysis and activism in New Jersey”.

Everyone who’s had an eye on the state’s economic performance the past few years knows that New Jersey hasn’t been doing well recently. As the United States climbs out of the recession, the Garden State is still stuck in neutral. The state’s economy still has only about 60% of the jobs today than it did before the recession, the unemployment rate is still a full percentage point higher than the national average, and the foreclosure crisis is still in full effect in the state.

With such a bleak outlook for the state, many people agree that something has to be done to get the state’s economy back on track. Legislators on the left and right have tried coming up with ways to address budget issues and the state’s anemic job growth. But after several years of plan making and position taking, nothing’s actually worked for state residents. All of the state’s numbers are sliding in the wrong direction.

Which brings me to this year’s statewide election. Every seat in the Assembly, the state’s lower legislative chamber, is up for grabs. If there was ever a time to put pressure on state lawmakers to do what’s really needed to get the state back on track, now would be the time. Clearly what politicians on both sides of the aisle have been trying hasn’t been working, and some fresh, creative solutions are needed. We should be having a vigorous debate in each legislative district about how we got into this station and what’s needed to get out of it. Lawmakers should feel like their jobs are on the line, that this election is a referendum on their ability to govern a state at a crossroads.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have that conversation or anything close to it. Of all the legislators up for reelection, pitifully few of them will even have to fight to make it to the general election in November. This is due to the fact that of all the seats up for grabs, almost none of them have competitive primaries, meaning the lawmakers you see in the Assembly this year are almost guaranteed to be the ones you see next year.

What does it mean in for a primary election for the Assembly to be competitive? Consider that there are 40 legislative districts in New Jersey, and that each district sends two people to the Assembly. In the primary election in June, the top two vote getters for each party in each district get to go to the general election in November. This means that for a primary to be competitive, there needs to be more than two candidates in a party on the primary ballot.

With this in mind, I took a look at the list of primary candidates for each legislative district in the state (available here). Scanning the list and starting with the first district, I had to reach district number nine before I hit a competitive primary, a 4-way race on the Republican side. It wasn’t again until the 15th District that another competitive primary showed up, this time a 3-way race on the Democratic side. Other highlights include a 6-way Democratic primary in the 20th District in Union County and a 7-way Democratic primary in the 31st District in Hudson County.

Overall, out of a possible 80 primary elections (for both Democrats and Republicans in each of the 40 legislative districts), there were only five that were competitive. That means that just over 6% of total primary races in the state were even worth showing up to the ballot for.

To put it simply, that’s pathetic. The lack of competitive primary races gives a free pass to legislators who have done little to nothing to fix what’s wrong with New Jersey. And in a state that used to be a shining example of success in the Northeast but whose peers are all now passing it by, it’s just unacceptable.

As John Oliver rightfully said, state legislatures are where laws that directly affect you are made. The policy decisions that dictate whether your roads are paved, your trains are on time, or your pensions are funded are all made in Trenton. So it’s disheartening that there is so little competition for those jobs, and that we keep sending the same people back year after year and expecting different results. How do we really expect to move New Jersey forward?

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