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In a world where hundreds of thousands of dollars are routinely spent to win even lackluster political offices, the write-in candidacy might seem like the longest of long shots. Still, it can pay off, as seen this year in Alaska, where incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski — after losing the Republican primary to Sarah Palin-anointee Joe Miller — apparently became the first write-in candidate to win a senate race since South Carolina's Strom Thurmond in 1954 (as of this writing, the vote in Alaska is still not official, with Miller having secured a federal injunction to keep the state from certifying the results). In Arkansas, the vote totals for write-ins are often miniscule, but that doesn't keep folks from trying.
According to the secretary of state's office, there were 13 certified write-in candidates in Arkansas for election 2010, up from only four in 2008. Arkansas state law says that in order to be certified, write-in candidates must file with the secretary of state's office a political practices pledge (certifying, among other things, that they are not a felon), an affidavit of eligibility and a short statement notifying the secretary of state that they plan to run as a write-in. In addition, write-in candidates must notify the election commission in each county in which he or she intends to seek office, All the paperwork must be filed a minimum of 90 days before the election.
The process for becoming a certified write-in, said secretary of state's office spokesperson Sandra McGrew, is fundamentally the same as with any other candidate — though candidates running as independents have to collect signatures from registered voters to get on the ballot. While many a wiseacre has gotten a thrill from penciling in "Mickey Mouse" during a year when the candidate choices are particularly dismal, don't bother. Only votes for certified write-ins make the cut. "[The law] only specifies to count votes for certified candidates," McGrew said. "We advise counties to add the votes for uncertified candidates to the number of undervotes for that particular contest." While Joe Miller's camp has contested tens of thousands of Alaska votes because voters often misspelled Murkowski's last name, Arkansas law stipulates that "any abbreviation, misspelling or other minor variation in the form of the name of the candidate shall be disregarded if the intention of the voter may be ascertained."
Marc Rosson of Gillham, who ran as a write-in candidate for attorney general, received the most votes of any write-in candidate in the 2010 election: 2,009 votes. He wasn't the most successful write-in, however. That has to be Robert Dittrich of Stuttgart, who ran — and won — as an unopposed write-in for prosecuting attorney, District 11 East. Because Dittrich ran unopposed, the county election commission wasn't required to count or record the number of votes for him, so the total he received isn't known. Rosson said that he decided to file as a write-in when he heard that Attorney General Dustin McDaniel had no Republican challenger. "It's worth doing anything, any kind of candidacy, if somebody doesn't have an opponent running against them. I believe everybody should have an opponent ... I don't believe in anybody getting a free ride."
Rosson's candidate website lists him as a Republican, but he said he really doesn't belong to either party.
While he said his candidacy wasn't expensive ("The only thing I can think of that I spent was on stamps, and I had some stamps laying here"), it was trying at times. Like all write-in candidates for statewide offices, Rosson had to send letters of intent to the election commissioners in all 75 counties in the state. He suspects some of those letters found their way to the circular file.
"The hardest part was trying to get people to be honest about it," Rosson said. "There were different counties that didn't have my name on the ballot, and they claimed they didn't receive the proper information... I know they got it, they just didn't want to fool with it. That's my opinion." Asked to elaborate, Rosson said he suspects it's because write-in ballots have to be reviewed and counted manually, which leads to more work for election officials.
How they fared
2010 write-in candidates
Stephan "Troublemaker" Hercher of Barling for U.S. Senate
519 write-in votes total (.07 percent of the total) with 172 to Hercher.
Mickey Higgins of Paragould for U.S. Congress, District 1
205 write-in votes total (.11 percent) with 198 to Higgins.
Danial Suits of Bryant for U.S. Congress, District 2
54 write-in votes total (.03 percent) with 14 to Suits.
David E. Dinwiddie of Pine Bluff for Governor
Elvis D. Presley of Star City for Governor
Billy Roper of Russellville for Governor
700 write-in votes total (.09 percent) with 20 to Dinwiddie, 49 to Roper, and 66 to Presley.
Marc Rosson of Gillham for Attorney General
3,216 write-in votes total (.44 percent), with 2,009 to Rosson.
David "Cowboy" McMillian of Mountain Pine for State Senate, District 19
221 write-in votes total (.89 percent) with 221 to McMillan.
H. Edwards of Stuttgart for State Rep., District 14
79 write-in votes total (1.32 percent), with 54 to Edwards.
Willie Gammon of Marion for State Rep., District 54
Ray Nassar of Marion for State Rep., District 54
840 write-in votes total (19.28 percent) with 779 to Gammon, and 0 to Nassar.
Abel Tomlinson of Fayetteville for State Rep., District 92
30 write-in votes total (.74 percent) with 30 to Tomlinson.
Robert Dittrich of Stuttgart for Prosecuting Attorney, District 11-East
Dittrich won the seat, but the write-in votes were not counted because he ran unopposed.
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