Most people at the polls last Tuesday, myself included, were filling in bubbles—voting for either Obama or Romney and then going down the list of other candidates one circle at a time.
But some people used their vote to become part of impressive, community-driven campaigns for unlikely candidates, possibly signaling the voting practices in the future. What if the thousands of people who voted for Hank the Cat and Charles Darwin weren’t just making a joke, they were making a statement?
In Virginia, Hank the Cat won third place in the U.S. Senate race, behind Tim Kaine (D) and George Allen (R). Using his compelling personal story of struggle, Hank raised over $60,000 for animal shelters through his campaign, proving he is a candidate who could really get things done.
Hank’s owner, Matthew O’Leary, claimed that he was tired of the onslaught of typical political campaigns and advertisements this election season and wanted to give citizens a moment of relief. It seems that Virginia citizens welcomed this relief, since more than 7,300 people supported Hank with their vote. If this many people supported an adopted cat, just how much could be garnered for real candidate?
In Georgia, "Charles Darwin" got 4,000 votes from write-ins for his bid for U.S. Congress. The votes were a result of an organized protest against uncontested incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Broun’s creationist views. To gain support for Charles, after a speech during which Broun denounced evolution and the Big Bang Theory, Jim Leebens-Mack, a plant biologist at the University of Georgia, created the Facebook group “Darwin for Congress.” Radio personalities in the area encouraged people to take advantage of the write-in system. While 4,000 votes were not enough for Darwin to get the win, it was still a pretty impressive community effort. If over 4,000 votes could be gathered in just over two months, what if the candidate was a truly viable one people could get behind?
With no budget, Charles and Hank were able to get votes from thousands of people through the simple use of social media, broadcasting, and word of mouth. So what if these candidates were real? What if the following was 20 times as large? Has the combination of social media, crowdsourcing and community-driven efforts changed the potential of write-in votes in future elections?
Naysayers will say a write-in vote is simply throwing your vote away (especially since write-in candidates have to be pre-registered with the state to even be considered). But in the case of Hank and Darwin, the write-in votes are not a personal statement but part of a larger, community voice. These ridiculous, but successful, campaigns this election season point to answers of how third-party candidates can stand a chance of success in future elections.
Do you think write-in votes can be an effective game changer?