107,257 Arizonans Cast Protest Votes for President. Did They Help Trump Win the Election?

107,257 Arizonans Cast Protest Votes for President. Did They Help Trump Win the Election?
New Times Illustration/Source Image: Shutterstock.com

Let's face it, in the giddy days before November 8, 2016, many voters thought “none of the above” seemed a pretty good choice for president.

Well, nobody’s joking about protest votes now. Depending on your political bent, you’re either laughing or crying into your Kiltlifter.

So spare a thought for those merry pranksters, the ones who really believed Mickey Mouse could do a better job as leader of the free world.

Maybe you wondered who they were, and if protest voting was really a thing. Wonder no more. It was. A big thing.

The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office statistics show 107,257 people cast ballots but left the space for president blank or wrote in a candidate’s name. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Arizona by 91,234 votes.

That’s right. President Trump’s margin of victory here was smaller than the de facto protest vote in Arizona.

“It is surprising,” said David Berman, professor emeritus of political science at Arizona State University. “It’s a statement to the extent to which the election turned people off.”

“Everybody would agree that those people didn’t like either Trump or Clinton. They simply lost votes,” Berman added. “It shows contempt for the whole system.”

We also now know for whom they voted. Bernie, right? Duh. Wrong. Maybe. Bernie Sanders, the darling of the progressive millennial crowd, their only real option to Nasty and Nastier, got zero write-in votes. None.

Not officially, anyway.

Unofficially, nearly 19,000 Maricopa County voters wrote in the name of an unofficial candidate, not registered as a write-in with the state. That could have been Mickey Mouse, Genghis Khan, a favorite pet or two. Or, most likely, Sanders. The county elections office says it doesn’t track the unofficial write-ins, so we’ll never know.

107,257 Arizonans Cast Protest Votes for President. Did They Help Trump Win the Election?
GARY M WILLIAMS/EFE/Newscom

By far and away, the biggest official write-in candidate in Arizona was Utah independent Evan McMullin. The former CIA operative, House staffer, and Goldman Sachs investment banker netted just shy of 17,500 of the nearly 19,000 write-in votes.

Okay, time for some hard honesty. While for a while some talked of Arizona turning purple, it really never was much more than a darker hue of red. Stale burgundy at best.

Consider that McMullin, an LDS member and advisor to Mitt Romney’s 2012 bid, positioned himself as the conservative choice to Trump and Clinton. Consider, too, that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson pulled in 106,000 votes and Green Party nominee Jill Stein just 34,000. Clearly, the undecided were leaning red anyway.

“An awful lot of Republicans were troubled by Trump. I don’t think the Democrats were as unhappy with Hillary,” Berman said.

Remember, too, that FiveThirtyEight.com’s Nate Silver, the mega-data prognosticating guru, the one who gave Clinton a 71 percent chance of winning in the final days before the election, said Arizona had a 2.8 percent chance of determining the next Oval Office occupant.

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But now consider that the same pattern played out in Florida, the state that gave meaning to the term ground zero.

The Miami New Times writes, “A new report from the Florida Division of Elections finds that more than 161,000 Florida voters went to the polls November 8, filled out a ballot, and then either avoided the presidential ticket or wrote in an invalid choice. That's significantly more than the 113,000 votes that separated Trump from Clinton in the Sunshine State, handing him 29 key electoral votes on his march to an upset victory.”

At one point, Hillary Clinton's campaign said Arizona was officially in play.EXPAND
At one point, Hillary Clinton's campaign said Arizona was officially in play.
Evie Carpenter

Winning Florida plus Arizona's 11 electoral votes would have been enough to give Clinton a victory, though it's highly unlikely enough "none" votes would have gone to one candidate to reverse the outcome.

But Arizona’s protest voting was no small fluke.

Around 57 percent of the state’s voters live in Maricopa County. Here, the number of protest votes quadrupled those from the past two presidential elections, according to figures released by the Elections Department in the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

More than 50,000 voters — 3 percent of all the voters who turned out — chose none of the above, either by writing in a valid candidate, an invalid candidate, or no name at all.

In each of the last two presidential elections that number was closer to 12,000, when disgruntled voters comprised less than 1 percent of all ballot-casters.

“We just have to mark this as an event that’s outside all norms,” said Rey Valenzuela, interim elections director at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. “It’s an election that sets all its own statistics.”

Valenzuela couldn’t offer an explanation. He said the office expected a backlash, based on what voters were saying about their distaste for the major candidates. It was the extent that surprised him.

There’s nothing new in Americans feeling their elections are nastier with every cycle. Trump versus Clinton wouldn’t be the first time voters faced a choice between the lesser of two evils.

“The numbers tell us the constituents didn’t find a lesser of two evils; at least, 31,000 of them didn’t,” Valenzuela said.

That number, 31,091 to be exact, was how many wrote in a name. But another 19,256 couldn’t bring themselves to vote for president at all.

So you could fill Chase Field with all the people in Maricopa County who voted “none of the above.”

Swamp? Meet your drain.


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