Elections in which nobody is officially running, and write-in candidates

In some local elections in the US, especially at the primary level, there are sometimes offices for which there are no official candidates. In some of these local elections, the only voting option is a blank line for a write-in candidate.

Now, I’ve been wondering for some time: What happens in these elections? If everybody who votes in these elections writes in their neighbor’s name, are those write-in votes duly counted up? If some lucky soul gets two write-in votes to everyone else’s one, does that guy get “elected”? Obviously he could decline the honor of being elected Town Dogcatcher or the like, but would he get the opportunity to accept the position after his landslide victory?

I’ve thought of this from time to time ever since I voted in a local primary back in Pennsylvania and one of the offices (for sewer commissioner or something similar) had no official candidate on the ballot, so I wrote in a friend’s name on a lark. I never saw the results to that election, and I’m curious as to how it would have been handled.

In my precinct, write-in votes are definitely counted. It hasn’t happened since I’ve lived here that a write-in was elected, but votes for a write-in are treated the same as a name printed on the ballot.

What would be the point of allowing a write-in vote if the rules didn’t allow it to be counted? Can the OP explain for the benefit of this confused Brit? (We don’t have write-in voting here, but I thought until now that I understood the concept.)

Disclaimer–elections (both primary and general) are governed by state law, and there is a lot of variation.

In general, however, when nobody files to run in a party primary, state law will allow the party to select a nominee in some other manner (typically by state or local party committee), rather than counting write-in votes. This is done mostly to spare parties the embarrassment of having LaRouchites and other whack jobs hijack uncontested nominations. (They could have gotten the nomination anyway by filing papers to get on the ballot, if nobody else did so, but that’s more work than getting your spouse and a couple of stump-toothed neighbors to write in your name.)

In the general election, uncontested offices are fairly rare, and I don’t know that a state would have any alternative but to count the write-in votes. Some states require you to file a declaration of write-in candidacy before they will do so, to save themselves the bother of counting isolated votes for hundreds of people.

Cites from Illinois law:

When no one files for a nomination, you need to get at least enough write-in votes to have gotten you on the ballot:

My state a few years ago also mandated that write-in candidates also must file ahead of time. Which sort of makes the whole thing mis-named.

But it does save them the time of counting votes for “Mickey Mouse.” (Esp. since such fillings are very uncommon and the officials don’t even have to look at them in races where no one filed.)