By Rachel Hoffmeyer
Voters hoping to write Bernie Sanders or Evan McMullin in on their Indiana ballot are out of luck.
Interest in write-in candidates is surging, according to Google Trends data, where online searches for the term have hit a record high. Indiana, in particular, is among the top five states searching for “write-in” in recent days.
In fact, by Thursday afternoon searches by Hoosiers for Sanders grew so much that Google Trends is classifying it as a “breakout,” meaning the search term has grown by more than 5,000 percent. Another top search is for McMullin, who is running as an Independent candidate. Google Trends shows a 1,600 percent growth.
But despite Hoosiers’ interest in possibly voting for Sanders and McMullin, it’s too little, too late. Indiana election law required all write-in candidates to file paperwork with the state by July 5.
“If you didn’t file to be a write-in in Indiana, people can’t write you in. Those votes won’t count,” said Valerie Warycha, communications director for the Secretary of State.
Fifteen candidates, including the Green Party’s Jill Stein, are eligible to be written in. Libertarian Gary Johnson is listed as a candidate on the ballot, alongside Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
According to election law experts, the goal of the deadline law is to ensure candidates meet requirements, such as age and residency, and file any necessary financial disclosures. The deadline also gives voters time to learn who the people are that are running for office.
“We don’t want people manipulating the system when they’re flying under the radar as write-in candidates,” said Derek Muller, associate professor of law at Pepperdine University School of Law.
A cynical reason may exist as well. Write-in candidates make getting re-elected more difficult for major and third party candidates, Lloyd Mayer, professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, pointed out.
“They can unexpectedly siphon away votes,” he said.
Deadlines early in the election cycle, enacted by legislators who are already in office, can reduce the number of write-in candidates and discourage people from voting for them.
On his website, McMullin lists Indiana as a state where despite barriers the campaign “will make every effort to ensure your vote counts,” but Mayer described that as an uphill battle. He cited a Supreme Court ruling that says states do not have to allow write-ins at all as long as candidates have other ways to get on the ballot. The McMullin campaign did not respond to questions regarding what efforts they may be making in Indiana.
While Google Trends did not give any insight as to why searches for “write-in” are spiking, Geoffrey Layman, a voting behavior expert at the University of Notre Dame, argued the country is faced with voting between the two most unpopular candidates in the history of polling.
While he expects to see an increase in the number of write-ins this year, Layman said most voters talking about participating in a write-in vote will likely end up voting traditionally.
“When push comes to shove, people who identify with a party usually end up voting for that party,” he said. “Especially in a state like Indiana where you can do a straight ticket vote. It’s just easier.”