Cache County saw the highest voter turnout on record — 93.3% — after the official canvas results were released on Tuesday. There were 58,905 ballots counted from the 63,833 registered voters, and, as happens whenever voters aren’t a fan of either candidate, thousands of ballots featured write-in candidates — the highest in recent years.
“Write-in candidates are really a novelty in American politics,” said Damon Cann, a political science professor at Utah State University.
Of the 2,222 write-in votes for the presidential, gubernatorial and Congressional District 1 races of the 2020 election, 1,284 could not be counted because the candidates were not certified as official write-in options.
An additional 620 votes for Cache County School District’s Board of Education’s Precinct 1 were write-ins because current board member Larry Jeppesen did not re-file in time and had to certify as a write-in candidate — the only write-in candidate to win a race in Utah this year.
“These voters really took the phrase ‘vote your conscience’ to heart,” said Cache County Clerk Jess Bradfield.
Political figures like Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney were grouped in with Jesus, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse — potentially the most popular write-in candidate in recent history, according to Cann— as popular options in Cache County.
Sen. Romney is no stranger to write-ins, himself. He said he wrote in his wife’s name rather than voting for Pres. Donald Trump or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. He did not voice his choice in 2020, but he did say his vote was “not for President Trump.”
“It’s a common theme we’ve seen for decades,” Cann said. “When people vote for Mickey Mouse, they’re saying a goofy cartoon TV character made for children would be a better candidate for president than any of the official options.”
The gubernatorial race in Utah featured the highest number of write-in votes from the county — 1,285 compared to the 94 for C.D. 1 and 824 for president. In fact, more people voted for Madeline Kazantzis as write-in for governor with Ed Kennedy as her running-mate (882) than any presidential write-in.
Jeppesen was reelected to the CCSD’s board with 141 votes, compared with the 479 votes for non-certified write-ins.
Cann said though write-in campaigns can be successful on rare occasions, the most common reasons voters choose the option due to humor or as “protest votes.”
“While it’s funny, I think there’s some value for allowing people to express that they’re a little disappointed with the candidates offered to them,” Cann said. “Writing a silly candidate gives somebody an ability to express they’re disappointed with candidates offered but still shows value for the system. They can still participate, still do their duty and vote and express their dissatisfaction with the other candidates.”
Election results are available on the Cache County website going back to 2006. Of the elections listed, the previous record number of write-ins was in 2012, where 2,183 write-ins were cast across 22 races.