Third party candidates and write-ins, why your ballot may never be read

ROANOKE (WSLS 10)-- The presidential election is less than two months away and this week, Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, announced he will be the first third-party candidate to appear on the ballot in all 50 states plus Washington, DC since 1996.

It has been one of the most highly contested presidential elections in years, with overall satisfaction in the candidates at the lowest point in two decades. It's a race that has many people thinking about voting for a third-party or writing in a candidate-- but experts say if you want your vote to count, that may not be the best choice in November.

"The Libertarian is not going to win. The Green Party is not going to win. Their write-in candidate is not going to win," says WSLS10 Political Expert, Ed Lynch. "You are voting for one of the two major candidates, even if you write-in or vote for a third party. You're denying a vote to one side, which means you're effectively giving a vote to the other side."

If you do decide to write-in a candidate on November 8-- odds are, your vote may never actually be read. WSLS10 spoke with local election officials about protocols for handling write-in votes. In Virginia, unless the total number of write-ins is more than 5%, they're just counted as write-in votes-- never categorized by candidate.

The shift to paper ballots his election cycle is changing the way that the process would work if we were to see a high number of write-ins. The new systems scan each ballot and compile all of those hand written votes in one place, so they're easy to access if they do reach that 5% threshold. That's something experts don't believe will happen in November's presidential election.

"It's very common in national elections to have a lot of write-ins," explains Andrew Cochran, the Roanoke Director of Elections and General Registrar. "People don't like a lot of candidates, so they'll utilize that opportunity to vote for a real person, or 'Mickey Mouse,' or 'None of the Above.' But it's very rare that those votes would exceed 5% for a national election."

Even if the number of write-in ballots did reach 5%, it would be impossible for any of the write-in candidates to win the election with that small amount of votes. That's why the Board of Elections is asking the state to increase that minimum number, bumping it up to 20% instead. That's a change that may take years to be put into place.