Election 2018Hot Sheet

Can a write-in win? Never say never

Author: Mark Harden - April 24, 2018 - Updated: April 24, 2018

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U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks during a committee hearing on March 13, 2018. Murkowski was elected as a write-in candidate in 2010. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

With the Colorado Supreme Court having thrown a body block at U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s bid for a seventh term, one of the Colorado Springs Republicans’ options is to run as a write-in candidate in November.

The high court ruled Monday that the 5th district congressman didn’t gather enough valid petition signatures to qualify for the June primary ballot.

Lamborn plans to challenge the ruling in federal court. Should he not prevail, then a write-in effort would be pretty much his only option if he wants to return to Congress.

Like that’s gonna work. Write-ins always lose, right?

Wrong. In fact, political history is replete with examples of people elected as write-ins.

Here are some notable examples:


The best-known recent case of a write-in winner is U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska. After being appointed to the Senate in 2002 and elected to a full term in 2004, she lost in the 2010 GOP primary to Joe Miller, who was aligned with the Tea Party movement.

So Murkowski ran as a write-in candidate in the 2010 general election, and wound up defeating both Miller and Democrat Scott McAdams despite receiving not quite 40 percent of the vote.

Thus Murkowski became the first U.S. senator to win election as a write-in since Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in 1954. (She won re-election the old-fashioned way in 2016.)


When Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony A. Williams fell short of the number of valid petition signatures he needed to make the Democratic primary ballot in 2002, he ran in the primary as a write-in and won, then won re-election in the general election. It was much the same story for Democrat Charlie Wilson in the 2006 race for Ohio’s 6th Congressional District.


It was not uncommon in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s for presidential candidates to win state party-primary elections as write-ins. Republican Dwight Eisenhower did it in Massachusetts in both 1952 and 1956, and Democrat John F. Kennedy did it in Pennsylvania in 1960. Both advanced to the White House.


And in perhaps the most bizarre recent example of a write-in candidate winning, Phillip Garcia, the Philadelphia editor of an online literary magazine, found himself elected last November as a precinct  election judge.

Garcia received exactly one vote — his own, which he wrote in. He was one of 71 Philadelphia election judges chosen via write-in votes last November.

Mark Harden

Mark Harden

Mark Harden is managing editor of Colorado Politics. He previously was news director at the Denver Business Journal; city editor, online news editor, state editor, national editor and popular music critic at The Denver Post; and an editor and reporter at newspapers in the Seattle area and San Francisco.


One comment

  • Mike Maday

    April 24, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Write in Doug, write in!

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