John Merrill says don’t count write-in votes for Alabama state or federal offices

Alabama write in votes
[Photo Credit: Alabama Today via Secretary of State's office]

Alabama voters who are unhappy with the choices at the polls often choose to write-in candidates instead of casting their vote for someone they can’t get behind. But that doesn’t necessarily mean their vote will ever be counted. At least not in a public way that they might otherwise expect.

Such is the case in the 2018 midterm elections. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill‘s office on Tuesday announced there were not enough write-in votes cast to merit counting them by name — as they won’t change the final outcome.

According to Alabama law, 17-6-28, write-in votes don’t need to be counted unless they may impact results. State law requires the Secretary of State’s Office to review county vote totals and compare those totals to the number of write-in votes cast in each statewide race involving a Federal or State office. Following the completion of that review, the Secretary of State’s Office is tasked with determining whether the total number of write in votes is less than the difference in votes between the candidates receiving the greatest number of votes for that office.

“Merrill and his team have completed a review of the offices and it has been determined that no county is required by law to count and report write-in votes as there were not enough votes cast,” according to a news release from the Secretary of State’s office.

But that doesn’t mean the write-in votes aren’t “counted.” The total number of write-in votes are recorded, but since the number is inconsequential to the outcome of the race, election officials aren’t required to tally specific votes for each individual write-in.

“All write in votes are counted and acknowledged and recorded, and documented. They just don’t have to be delineated for the public to see because they did not affect the outcome of the race. All votes counted for those individuals whose names were written in,” Merrill explained on Alabama Today’s Facebook page.

Hypothetical scenario

To better understand how the write-in vote counting process works, imagine that in a given county there were 100 ballots cast total in one particular race. Suppose Candidate A received 53 votes, Candidate B received 35 votes, and a Candidate 3, a third-party candidate, received 10 votes. That means there were just two write-in votes in the race. Given that two votes would not be enough to change the outcome of the election, the names of those votes would not be recorded.

All 100 votes, and their break-down — Candidate A: 53 votes, Candidate B: 35 votes: Candidate C: 10 votes, Write-ins: 2 votes — will be documented.

Final vote totals

County election officials must still make this determination for any county offices not included in the Secretary of State’s review. Final vote totals as certified by the County Canvassing Board are due to the Secretary of State’s Office by Friday, November 16.

 *This story has been updated to further clarify the write-in vote counting process.