WASHINGTON – Martin Sheen is not a president, but he plays one on TV. That was apparently enough for a handful of Maryland voters who cast write-in ballots last month for Sheen as president.
His was the most topical name among the usual write-in votes for Mickey Mouse, Howdy Doody and others, as Maryland voters continued the proud tradition of adding a little spice to their ballots.
A sampling of election offices around the state found write-in votes for fictional, political and cinematic figures — and some suggestions that cannot be printed in a family newspaper.
No one can say for sure why such names end up on ballots: It could be disgust with the political system or unhappiness with the quality of candidate selection, political experts said.
People who cast write-ins generally do so for two reasons, one serious and one not so serious, said Griff Hathaway, a political science professor at Towson University.
Serious write-in voters cast ballots on principle for candidates like Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who unsuccessfully sought his party’s presidential nomination earlier this year. Both men received votes for president Nov. 7 in a few Maryland counties.
“That’s the person they want to vote for,” said Hathaway.
Those voters who are not so serious may cast write-in votes to “express profound dissatisfaction,” or to seek attention, Hathaway said. That’s why they vote for characters such as Ellery Queen, Al Bundy, Toto the dog or even Garfield the Cat.
It is not unusual for a minute fraction of people each year to write in candidates, said Allan J. Lichtman, an expert on presidential and congressional campaigns at American University.
Lichtman said he knows of someone who once wrote in a friend’s name for president, so that person would have a place in history.
Unofficial write-ins were not limited to national races. Maryland voters wrote in Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s name in a congressional race; Snoopy for senator; and Foghorn Leghorn for a judgeship.
County boards of elections are only required to report, by name, votes for candidates who had filed as a write-in candidate before Election Day — the rest can simply be tallied as “other.” Despite that, however, Montgomery County election officials said they noticed a “fair number” of votes for McCain while tallying the ballots.
Some smaller counties added up the names of “other” candidates, even though they were not required to do so.
Returns in Calvert County included 12 voters who wrote in “none of the above” for president, 10 who voted for Mickey Mouse and eight who voted for Donald Duck. In Kent County, two votes were cast for “none of the above” and one for McCain for president.
In Baltimore City, voters used the empty line for write-in ballots to literally express their unhappiness with the political system. Among the offerings were “legalize pot,” “end the war on people,” assorted profanities and, “Da hell with all ’em, none.”