DES MOINES — More than 17,000 Iowans voted for write-in candidates for U.S. president — well more than double the number who did so in 2012 — which may reflect dissatisfaction with both candidates, officials said.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office reported Wednesday that 17,365 Iowans wrote in names other than Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In 2012, when President Barack Obama won 51.7 percent of the vote in Iowa, only 7,442 Iowans voted for write-ins. When Obama was elected for the first time in 2008, 6,737 Iowans voted for write-ins.
“It probably tells you they want change,” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said about the relatively large number of write-ins this year.
Trump, a New York businessman and reality TV star and now president-elect, has promised change that includes building a wall between the United States and Mexico, slashing taxes and renegotiating foreign trade deals. But the Iowans who wrote in candidates didn’t seem to support that, Pate said.
“For whatever reason, they didn’t feel like he was the type of change agent they wanted in place,” Pate said.
Write-ins for 2016 were still only 1.1 percent of the nearly 1.56 million Iowa ballots cast in the presidential race. For comparison, more than 58,800 people voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson, which was 3.8 percent of the total vote.
The Iowa Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t see write-in names unless they reach 5 percent of the total vote, Pate said. Counties have a better idea of the most common write-ins, but many hadn’t gotten to that stage by Wednesday.
A name that likely appeared on a lot of write-in ballots was Bernie Sanders, who narrowly lost to Clinton in the Iowa caucuses. Sanders, an independent U.S. Senator from Vermont, appealed to young people by calling for a “political revolution” that would take on the ultrawealthy and create an economic balance.
“In the 40 days leading up to the election, I heard from a lot of people who wanted to write in Bernie Sanders or (GOP vice presidential candidate) Mike Pence because they weren’t happy with the actual choices,” said Eric Loecher, election systems administrator for the Linn County Auditor’s Office.
Auditors and Iowa Secretary of State’s Office employees were still trying to crunch numbers Wednesday to see trends that may have influenced the Republican tidal wave in Iowa.
Official results won’t be available until after the state canvass Dec. 5.
Early Tuesday night, Pate said he thought 2016 turnout would fall well short of 70 percent of active voters statewide casting ballots in the presidential election. He based this prediction, in part, on 4,000 fewer registered Democrats that voted absentee than in 2012. Democrats usually have a strong absentee get-out-the-vote effort, while more Republicans want to vote in person on Election Day.
But the overall turnout of more than 1.56 million voters casting ballots in the presidential race surpassed the 1.55 million of 2008 and came close to the 1.59 million of 2012, Pate said. State officials expected final numbers would show 75 percent of active voters in Iowa cast ballots.
Johnson County set a benchmark voter turnout, with 76,596 people voting in the presidential election, said Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert. This debunks, to some degree, theories young people didn’t show up for the election.
“We set a record turnout,” he said. “A lot of our student precincts were really high.”