News & Comment » News

The Defiance Vote

Faced with the choice of Clinton and Trump, a lot of Washington and Idaho residents chose neither

by

Evan McMullin got nearly 30 percent of the vote in one Idaho county.
  • Evan McMullin got nearly 30 percent of the vote in one Idaho county.

In Spokane County, more than 7,300 residents struck a blow for None of the Above. Maybe they wrote in Evan McMullin or Mitt Romney or Pat Paulsen or Harambe the gorilla. But as of the count a week after Election Day, more than 3.5 percent of voters in Spokane County chose to defy the choices on their ballot and write in somebody else.

That's not even counting the more than 2,400 people who turned in their ballots with the presidential field completely blank. Then there's the third-party vote. Libertarian Gary Johnson received nearly 5.5 percent in Spokane County, more than triple his vote in 2012, and more than 11 times what the Libertarians got in 2008. The Green Party's Jill Stein managed to pull 1.65 percent of the vote in the county this year.

Put all of these together — we'll call it the "protest vote" — and you can get a sense of the dissatisfaction over the two candidates picked by the main parties.

The protest vote level this year in Spokane County far outpaced the level in the previous three elections. Less than 4 percent of voters refused to support the Republican or Democratic presidential nominee in 2012. The protest vote percentage this year even doubled the protest vote percentage in the county in 2000 — the year of Ralph Nader.

It's why, despite winning Spokane County by a wider margin than the Republican nominee did four years ago, Trump, unlike Romney in 2012 or George W. Bush in 2004, couldn't crack 50 percent. He received 48 percent of the vote — slightly less than John McCain got in 2008. Hillary Clinton received less than 42 percent of the county's vote. A full tenth of the Spokane County electorate who turned in ballots voted for neither.

Statewide, more than 78,000 voters picked a write-in candidate — about the population of Kennewick. And more than 208,000 Washington voters — nearly the population of Spokane — voted third party.

But the real third-party magic happened in deeply conservative Idaho, where the third-party vote was so high that Clinton actually took third in seven counties, behind conservative Mormon protest candidate McMullin.

Southeastern Idaho, after all, borders Utah, a heavily Mormon state where McMullin managed to pull nearly 21 percent of the vote. (Mormons, much more than evangelical Christians, distrust Trump's enthusiasm for banning religious minorities.)

So it might seem crazy to see McMullin — who wasn't even on the ballot in most states — receiving nearly 30 percent of the vote in Idaho's Madison County. That is, until you see what's in the center of that county: the Idaho campus of Brigham Young University. ♦

Tags