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Write-in candidates do change the outcome of elections -- just not how you might think

What happens when you vote for Gritty instead of the candidates printed on the ballot?

What happens when you vote for Gritty instead of the candidates printed on the ballot?

Every election comes with the option to order off-menu. There’s always a little line under every bracket for you to write in your own, unlisted candidate.

Technically, write-in candidates seeking election at the state and federal level have to file a request with the Minnesota Secretary of State -- who was, and as of Tuesday night continues to be, Steve Simon.

MinnPost rounded up these “official” write-in candidates on Tuesday. Among registered write-in candidates, Minnesotans casting gubernatorial vote had the option of Brian Long, or David Jon Marcaccini, or Olé Savior. For the United States Senate, you could have spurned Karin Housley and Tina Smith for Stephen A. Emery or Tim Meier.

If you don’t recognize those names, don’t worry. Most people wouldn’t. Though you might be able to identify some other suggested candidates that wound up on ballots, such as Gritty, Cthulhu, and Jack Daniels. (These are real examples from this year, which again, sadly, do not get counted.)

The race where write-ins came closest to affecting the outcome of the race was in Minnesota’s First District, where for a time, the number of write-ins was bigger than the margin between Republican Jim Hagedorn and Democrat Dan Feehan. Hagedorn beat Feehan by a nose. If fewer people had gone with the none-of-the-above option, he might not have.

If write-ins determine anything in the course of an election, it’s usually the degree of dissatisfaction or fatigue with certain races. This year, the race with by far the highest concentration of write-in candidates was the Minnesota Attorney General seat, which went to Democrat Keith Ellison.

Ellison’s fight with Republican Doug Wardlow was long, bitter, and almost devoid of positivity. Ellison faced allegations from his ex-girlfriend, Karen Monahan and her son, who said he physically abused Monahan when they were together. Ellison has denied this, and so far, no further evidence has surfaced, but it cast a pall over the entire campaign.

Meanwhile, Wardlow, who positioned himself as the nonpartisan, no-nonsense candidate, was constantly being confronted by his hyper-conservative past. That included several years working for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. Not to mention things he actually stated during the campaign, like his intention to fire 42 Democratic attorneys as soon as he set foot in the attorney general’s office.

Ellison ended up with nearly 1.3 million votes, Wardlow just shy of 1.2 million, and legal marijuana candidate Noah Johnson snagged about 150,000. But nearly 5,000 voters wrote a fourth, unspecified name instead. The contest that came closest to that was the gubernatorial race, which only had about 800 write-in votes.

These handwritten names will eventually be lost to history, and the leaders we elected will mold our futures, for better or for worse. But every vote is a choice, and every choice has impact. It’s impossible to know just how many ballots with "Harambe" or "Jack Daniels" written on them helped to shape the outcome.