How do I write in a candidate on Election Day?

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The race for Buffalo mayor is receiving national attention as four-term incumbent Byron Brown wages a write-in campaign after losing the primary election to India Walton. Now that Election Day is nearly upon us, here’s a guide to writing in a candidate.

How to write in a candidate on Election Day

Step 1: Go to your polling place and acquire your ballot. (Look up your polling place or early-voting locations here.)
Step 2: Identify the race in which you want to vote for a write-in candidate. (In Buffalo, the mayor’s race will be listed in the right-most column of the ballot.)
Step 3: Locate the box in the last row that corresponds with “Write-In.”
Step 4: Fill in the bubble and clearly write (or stamp) your preferred candidate’s name.

What if I spell the candidate’s name wrong?

News 4 has asked both the Democratic and Republican commissioners of the Erie County Board of Elections about this, and they are in agreement: You don’t have to spell the candidate’s name correctly for your vote to count. They will judge the intent of the voter.

“For instance, in the name of the candidate, you could put the first name, last name, use initials,” said Ralph Mohr, the Republican commissioner for the Erie County Board of Elections. “We even had a court case where someone had the proper last name but wrong first name and the court said that was identifiable enough to the candidate that was running.”

Who decides what counts?

“Anything that’s questionable would be up to the commissioners to rule on,” said Jeremy Zellner, the Democratic commissioner for the Erie County Board of Elections.

Of course, if the race is close, legal challenges could mount.

“Something tells me there’s gonna be a lot of lawyering going on in November in Buffalo,” Zellner said. “I mean, we could rule on something and it could go to court. We’re not always the last destination for candidates here and I’m sure there’ll be attorneys here overseeing the process for the candidates as well.”

What if I don’t fill in the bubble?

If you don’t fill in the bubble when you cast a write-in vote, your vote will still count. It will just make things more difficult for the Board of Elections.

“So, whether the write-in bubble is filled in or not – we prefer that it’s filled in because that assists us on election night to determine whether a write-in has been cast or not – it is still not critical to the counting of that ballot,” Mohr said.

Is it bad to write in a candidate if they’re already listed on the ballot?

Yes. If a candidate is on the ballot, only votes on their ballot line will be counted. Do not write in a listed candidate’s name if you want your vote for them to count.

Is stamping a candidate’s name allowed?

It is. Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, who is running as a write-in candidate after losing the primary, said his staff ordered tens of thousands of push stamps with his name to distribute for use on Election Day.

A spokesperson for India Walton’s campaign told News 4, “Counsel informs us that the stamp gambit is actually legal.”

When will write-in votes be counted?

In the days after the 2020 presidential election, we saw breathless coverage of absentee votes being counted. But don’t expect a similar scene in Erie County. That’s because the actual write-in votes cannot be examined here until at least 10 days later, which is the deadline for military and absentee votes to come in.

Only then will write-in votes begin to be tallied, which means if the race is close, we will not know the winner until at least mid-November.

What happens to the write-in ballots until then?

During the 10-day period until write-in votes can be counted, the ballots will be under double lock-and-key: Democrats have one key and Republicans have the other. Neither party will be able to gain access to the ballots without the other being present.

“We really have a lot of fail-safes that the public should be confident in what we’re doing here,” Zellner said.

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