While Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump will find themselves at the top of the ballot in the Nov. 8 election, there are other alternatives for president for voters to consider.
And it’s not just candidates from the Libertarian or Greens or US Taxpayers’ or Natural Law parties that Michigan voters will see on the ballot.
There are seven more people who registered with the Secretary of State by the Sept. 9 deadline to become write-in candidates, whose votes will actually be counted if voters take the time to pencil in their names.
There’s not much of a chance that any of these candidates will make much of a difference in this year’s election, however. In 2012, some 7,973 votes out of more than 4.7 million votes cast in Michigan went to four write-in candidates, including this year’s Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. In 2008, only 170 votes out of more than 5 million cast went to two write-in candidates.
But 2016 is different. Both Trump and Clinton have unfavorable numbers that exceed 50% — and in Trump’s case surpass 60% — according to polling averages compiled by the website Real Clear Politics.
That has brought out a slew of candidates whose chances range from slim to none.
“For write-in candidates, their motives run the gamut from farcical to serious,” said University of Michigan political science professor Vincent Hutchings. “We’re in a political environment in which a reality TV star can capture the nomination. In those circumstances, it might send a message that basically anybody with a grievance or a sense of stage presence could run.”
Among the write-in candidates, some are serious — Evan McMullin and Laurence Kotlikoff, political outsiders who initially got into the race to provide an alternative to Trump — are hoping to capture lightning in a bottle and deny enough electoral votes to both Trump and Clinton to throw the election to the U.S. House of Representatives to decide.
“Anybody who is interested in policy and concerned about the country’s direction and concerned about foreign policy should be very disappointed with the two choices we now have,” said Kotlikoff, a fiscal conservative, author and professor of economics at Boston University, who has developed a 157-page platform book. “This is a serious endeavor, it wasn’t done as a lark. You cannot influence politicians because their focus is on getting and maintaining power. They’re not focused on the truth or solutions.”
McMullin, a former CIA operative and chief policy director of the House of Representatives’ Republican Conference, was loosely associated with the “Never Trump” movement and has seen some polling success in his native Utah, where he could become a factor in the race.
“This should be an easy opportunity for a modestly capable Republican nominee. But in Donald Trump, we have someone who is even more deeply flawed,” he said while campaigning in Michigan last month. “He’s posing a threat to our democracy.”
Leaning toward the less serious are several write-in candidates with Michigan ties: Cherunda Fox of Detroit; Ben Hartnell, an Ohio high school history teacher who graduated from Michigan State University; and Michael Maturen, a Harrisville resident and salesman with Alcona Motors.
The platform for Fox, a retired state social worker, includes $400,000 each in reparations for people who can prove they are descendants of slaves, emptying all the prisons and an $8.5-trillion program to put people back to work.
“I’ve been running for 2½ years. I’ve got one donation from my son for $5 and someone in Fargo, South Dakota, gave me $20 to fill up my gas tank,” she said. “It doesn’t cost millions and billions to run for president.”
For Hartnell, his unlikely race for the presidency began as a history lesson for his high school students and has maintained an air of the absurd. He sports a "Duck Dynasty"-worthy beard that has inspired his campaign slogan “Lower Taxes. More Beard.” He has no platform, instead asking voters to tell him what they think he should do. And his website is replete with pop culture references, from TV star Ryan Seacrest to a clip from the HBO show “The Newsroom,” and the movies “The Big Lebowski” and “Talladega Nights.”
“This is absolutely the greatest lesson plan I’ve concocted in my entire life,” said Hartnell, whose running mate Dave Marshall works in the medical manufacturing and distribution industry and lives in Lansing. “My 6-year-old son is convinced I’m going to win. He’s already invited his first-grade classroom to the White House for ice cream.”
Other write-in candidates whose votes will count in Michigan include:
--Maturen, who now is a member of the American Solidarity Party, and who describes himself as a former conservative Republican who has been transformed into a social conservative and fiscal moderate.
--Tom Hoefling, a conservative activist from Iowa who is known primarily for his opposition to abortion, support for traditional marriage and defender of the right to keep and bear arms.
--Monica Morehead, who represents the Workers’ World Party, which wants to abolish capitalism, disarm the police and immigration officers, fight for a socialist revolution and defend the Black Lives Matter movement.
None of the write-in candidates will have the ability to have votes cast for them count in all 50 states. Nine states don’t permit write-in votes, while seven states will count any write-in votes that are cast; and 34 states, including Michigan, have some sort of registration requirement to get their votes counted.
Michigan’s write-in candidates had to get signatures from 16 people — one from each of the state’s 14 congressional districts and two other people from any part of the state.
The third-party candidates, since they’ll actually appear on the ballot, will have a better chance of siphoning votes away from Trump and Clinton, said Hutchings.
“Do I think (Libertarian Party candidate) Gary Johnson will get 9% of the vote? No. But he could get half of that,” Hutchings said. “But I imagine that younger people, who have weaker ties to the major parties, could be attracted to the third-party candidates.”
Successful write-in candidacies are not unheard of, however, even though victories are unlikely on a national scale.
“You saw Lisa Murkowski in Alaska and Mike Duggan in Detroit,” said Matt Grossman, the executive director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research in East Lansing, referring to the write-in campaigns of the Republican senator from Alaska and Detroit’s mayor. “This has been a cycle where people have disliked the two main candidates more than we’ve ever seen, so it’s not surprising that people are looking for another alternative. But you certainly have to consider it an uphill battle.”