Alaska At-Large Concepts-5-22-21.png

July 28, 2022

One crucial fact about write-ins

I have gone through the rabbit hole on write-ins. I have wallowed in a world of what-ifs and swum in the seas of likelihood. I hesitate to say it out loud, but …

I think I’ve got it! I see the grand pattern. From here on the mountaintop, I can tell you there’s a logic to the way the Division of Elections will treat write-ins on ranked choice ballots and it … is …  beautiful.

I urge you not to do as I’ve done. A sizable compartment of my brain is now given over to arcana about statutory thresholds and ballot aggregation. If I tell you what I know, you risk losing your ability to knit or conjugate irregular verbs. You might forget code words in the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Oscar Mike Golf! 

To keep it simple: You’ll see a blank for write-ins on the special congressional ballot on Aug. 16. You’ll see more blanks, for every race, on the regular general ballot in November. The most important thing to know is that if you write in the name of a candidate who has not registered as a write-in, your vote for that person won’t count. 

Why am I going into this? Some of you have told me you plan to write in Tara Sweeney’s name on the special general ballot, either as your first choice or your second. Sweeney, a moderate Republican, finished fifth in the special primary. Some assumed she would get Al Gross’s spot on the ballot after he dropped out, but no.

Sweeney says she’s focused on winning a full House term and hasn’t registered as a write-in for the partial term. Yet. She hasn’t ruled it out.

The deadline for write-in registration is five days before the election. The names will be on the Division of Elections’ candidate lists.

Keep in mind, no write-ins are possible in the pick-one primary. This is just for the general. 

I’ll now go into more detail. The combo to the bike lock and all the family recipes you know by heart – you’ve got them down on paper, right? OK, read on:

Imagine all write-ins are aggregated and considered as one candidate named Write-In. Unless Write-In finishes first or a close second, whatever a voter scrawled in that blank won’t be read. If Write-In finishes last and is eliminated, the ballots in that stack will be re-allocated according to the voters’ second choice, assuming they made one.

I know what you’re thinking: What if Write-In finishes first but is actually several people? The Division of Elections says they’ll be treated as individual candidates before the ranked choice tabulations begin.

And yes, if you write in the name of an unregistered write-in candidate, your ballot will still count for the other choices you ranked.

Special note to Anne’s friend Tom, who emailed to ask what will happen if, in the special, he ranks Democrat Mary Peltola No. 1, then writes in Sweeney for No. 2 and ranks Sarah Palin No. 3. 

As discussed in last week’s newsletter, Peltola will probably finish on top after the first round of the special, because the two conservatives are expected to split the Republican vote. In that scenario, Tom’s vote stays with Peltola and no one will look at his other rankings. If Peltola were to finish last and get eliminated, and if Write-In does not garner enough votes to finish first or a close second, then yes, his No. 3 ranking for Palin would count.

That’s all I got, folks. My brain is tired. I used to like to knit. I once knew the Lindy Hop. Clearly, I’ve wasted too many brain cells on the unlikely possibility that write-ins could carry the day. 

But then … who remembers that stunner in 2010 when a certain U.S. senator convinced 19,000 Alaskans to write “Murkowski” on their ballots? I like to be prepared.

Drop me a line. Let me know how I'm doing and what your questions are. Help a friend subscribe so we can all swim together in these unfamiliar waters.

- Liz Ruskin

Follow me on twitter: @lruskin

Know others who need our Alaska At-Large newsletter? Forward this email so they can subscribe free here.

Recent election coverage:

Voters can write ‘Tara Sweeney’ on the special election ballot, but here's why it might not count

Sweeney is campaigning for a full U.S. House term and hasn't registered as a write-in for the special.


640px-Juneau_Building_Jul2017_32 image

Outside donors give big to Dunleavy and Walker while Gara reaps more small in-state contributions

Not counting jumbo contributions, the top three fundraisers in the governor's race are roughly even in money from Alaskans.


Sen. Murkowski tests positive for COVID

Murkowski came down with flu-like symptoms as she campaigned for re-election in Alaska.



If you enjoy our coverage of the 2022 elections, please consider

donating to continue to make journalism like this possible

at Alaska Public Media. Click here to give.

Read more election coverage at

We want to make sure you are getting the newsletters that matter to you. Manage your preferences, change your subscriptions, sign up for our other newsletters, and update your contact information by clicking Update Profile below.

Facebook  Instagram  Twitter  YouTube