Disclosure: I do not live in the USA and so am only picking up bits of American news from various places.

What I'm picking up on is that one of the larger things in the United States is a legal argument whether Donald Trump can be listed on state primaries, because some states have barred him based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

My question is not on the 14th Amendment, but about write-ins on ballots.

If the U.S. Supreme Court does rule that states can bar him from being listed on the ballot as a printed name, what happens if enough of his supporters decided to list him as as a write-in name on their ballot?

Would the ballot be considered "spoilt" and discarded, and therefore that person has wasted their ballot, meaning they haven't even cast a vote for their 2nd choice candidate?

  • 2
    "one of the larger things in the colonies" Ha! Ha! Must be confusing because all American politicians are insurrectionists from your perspective.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 23 at 17:20
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    “their 2nd choice candidate”? AFAIK, the US does not use instant run off aka preferential voting - one ballot, one vote.
    – Dale M
    Jan 23 at 20:05
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    @DaleM There are some places that do use ranked choice. For instance, Alaska does. I'm not sure whether it has it for the presidential election. Jan 24 at 4:32
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    This could easily vary from one state to another. Jan 24 at 21:46
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    @ohwilleke I'm fairly sure they are barred from running in the UK! Didn't pay their taxes, did they. Jan 25 at 11:35

2 Answers 2


If the U.S. Supreme Court does rule that states can bar him from being listed on the ballot as a printed name, what happens if enough of his supporters decided to list him as as a write-in name on their ballot?

Would the ballot be considered "spoilt" and discarded, and therefore that person has wasted their ballot, meaning they haven't even cast a vote for their 2nd choice candidate?

If a candidate is legally determined to be ineligible to hold a public office based upon Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, then write-in votes cast for that candidate in the general election would not be counted. The ballots of people making that write-in vote would be wasted.

Delegates For Candidates Disqualified After A Primary or Caucus Is Held

If a candidate in a Presidential primary or caucus, wins delegates to a party national convention, and that candidate is only later disqualified, however, those delegates would then become uncommitted delegates who could shift their support to a new candidate.

Something similar routinely happens in the primary and caucus season of Presidential elections, when people vote for candidates who drop out of the race before the time to select of nominee for their political party arrives.

Footnote Regarding Democratic Write-In Ballots In New Hamsphire

On the other hand, incumbent President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has been excluded from the Democratic party primary ballot in the New Hampshire primary being held today on January 23, 2024, despite being the only serious candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination (twenty-one vanity candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination will appear on the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballot), and despite the fact that Biden is constitutionally qualified to serve as President, as he is currently doing, is undisputed.

Polling indicates that a supermajority will be writing in Joe Biden as their choice on that ballot.

The way this state of affairs came to be is complicated and highlights the Byzantine nature of the process by which the U.S. chooses its President.

The Washington Post explains what is going on there:

New Hampshire is holding the first-in-the-nation primary elections on Tuesday, for both Democrats and Republicans. But the Democratic primary won’t have President Biden on the ballot. Voters will see the names of his 21 primary challengers instead — and space to write in a name.

But even if one of his primary challengers wins in New Hampshire, it won’t change the electoral outcome of the Democratic nomination process. Barring a catastrophe, Biden will likely be Democrats’ nominee. Here’s what’s going on with New Hampshire.

The parties set their own primary calendars, but for decades Republicans and Democrats have followed roughly the same schedule: Iowa holds the first caucus, then New Hampshire holds the first primary. Republicans are still doing that this year.

But Democrats dramatically changed up their primary schedule for 2024. The party chose South Carolina, where there are far more Black voters than in mostly-White Iowa or New Hampshire. New Hampshire was supposed to go second alongside Nevada, then Michigan. Iowa was pushed way forward to March....

The state is holding a primary anyway on Tuesday, for both Democrats and Republicans. New Hampshire’s election officials note that a decades-old state law requires it to be the first primary in the nation. (Iowa doesn’t count, because it’s a caucus.)

New Hampshire Democrats argued behind the scenes they didn’t care if they got penalized for breaking the rules. It’s a pretty low-stakes primary, given there’s no real question about who will be the nominee....

The fight between the Democratic National Committee and New Hampshire over the calendar quickly got contentious. The DNC decided to penalize New Hampshire by taking away its roughly two dozen delegates. The primary there is “meaningless,” the DNC declared this month, adding: "…[P]residential candidates should take all steps possible not to participate.”...

The Biden campaign long ago decided to follow the party’s guidance and not compete there. “While the president wishes to participate in the Primary, he is obligated as a Democratic candidate for President to comply [with party rules],”...

Beyond New Hampshire, Biden’s 21 primary challengers are hardly a factor, but one of them might win this primary. But the win will be symbolic, since the state has been deprived of its delegates....

If Biden wins the New Hampshire primary, it would be through a write-in campaign being led by grassroots Democrats. The Biden campaign is not involved in this, because he can’t compete in the state. But a group of New Hampshire Democratic Party leaders have launched a campaign to urge voters to write in his name, and it’s possible he could win that way. Still, write-in campaigns are historically difficult, and require a lot of voter education and outreach....

New Hampshire is also an open primary, meaning voters not registered with a party can choose which primary ballot they’d like. It’s actually pretty normal in the state for independents who lean left to vote in the Republican primary to affect that outcome, for example.

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    As of a minute ago, 90% of precincts have reported in. Biden had 51.4% of the vote, all through write-ins, and there is about 14% that are write-in (almost certainly also for Biden?) that are marked as unprocessed. Next highest candidate is under 20%. So it looks like Biden will get all of New Hampshire's 0 delegates.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 24 at 14:17
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    Kinda gotta feel bad for the 17ish people who thought maybe they were serious candidates, and got less than the 0.6% of Vermin Supreme.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 24 at 14:23
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    @T.E.D. this morning he was up to 665! Amusingly, it's still 0.6%. Jan 24 at 14:52
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    @Vector The two issues are identical in this case because Colorado law requires candidates who appear on a primary ballot (the primary process is administered and paid for by state and county governments, not the political party in question), to be eligible to hold public office, and that requirement has repeatedly been affirmed in prior cases as constitutionally valid. So, SCOTUS will reach the Section 3 eligibility issue. Almost all, but not all, states have the same requirement, as does, IRRC, the RNC.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 24 at 18:46
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    @phoog All but a small handful of U.S. states, as a matter of state law, do not count the votes of candidates not qualified to hold the office in question.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 24 at 23:45

Merely having an invalid write-in does not spoil the ballot in general; it spoils only that vote. If the ballot is ranked-choice, further votes are counted, and if there are other votes on the ballot (for instance, there may be an initiative on the same ballot as the presidential ballot), those are also valid.

An example is this law from Washington state:

Those parts of a ballot are invalid and no votes may be counted for those issues or offices where more votes are cast for the office or issue than are permitted by law; write-in votes do not contain all of the information required under RCW 29A.60.021; or that issue or office is not marked with sufficient definiteness to determine the voter's choice or intention.


Note that it says "those parts of a ballot are invalid", not "those ballots are invalid".

  • But the candidate being unqualified for the office does not appear on the list of reasons for invalidating part of a ballot.
    – phoog
    Jan 24 at 22:43

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