No one expects Mickey Mouse to win elected office. It’s not his advanced age, diminutive height, or that squeaky voice. It’s the fact that he’s a fictional character.

Regardless, an assortment of voters pepper their ballots on election day with Mickey, usually followed down-ticket with his running mates, Donald and Goofy. For some, it’s a political statement or declaration of indifference. For others it’s a joke.

Voters can write in Mickey for nearly any office. But for more than 25 years, South Carolina voters have been banned from writing in a candidate for president, forced to pick one of the options given or not vote at all. Calls over the years to repeal the ban have fallen on deaf ears, yet another attempt has been introduced in this election year to give voice to Mickey’s supporters, or others with more than just a funny take on who the next world leader should be.

The Palmetto State holds a unique place in the history of write-ins with Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 1954 first-ever Congressional win as a write-in candidate. To this day, Thurmond remains the only write-in to win a Senate seat.

When the state legislature overhauled the code of laws in 1976, there was already an allowance for write-in votes for any race. In 1982, the governor signed into law a prohibition of write-in votes for president, but it’s unclear what motivated the move.

Tom Huff, a former state legislator who is now an appeals court judge, is baffled at how the write-in ban made it into a bill he’d authored regarding broader ballot reforms.

“I really don’t remember it,” he says, noting he shouldn’t comment further because the law, possibly added by someone else through the legislative process, theoretically could be challenged in the state courts.

At the time, Huff and other sponsors were Democrats (though he eventually switched parties), so there could have been some concern that a faction of the party would support a write-in candidate who could siphon off votes, particularly after Sen. Ted Kennedy’s challenge to Carter’s 1980 reelection bid.

Strom Thurmond’s

Write-In Win

In 1954, Sen. Burnet Maybank died just after winning the Democratic primary to keep hold of his Senate seat. Years before the mass political exodus to the Republican Party, winning the Democratic primary in South Carolina was tantamount to being elected, says Jack Bass, a College of Charleston political science professor and noted Strom Thurmond biographer.

Party rules at the time required that the term be filled at the discretion of the presiding Democratic Party. For example, if a Berkeley County magistrate had died, the county’s Democratic Party would select the replacement to complete the term.

“But this wasn’t a magistrate,” Bass says. “This is a U.S. Senator with a six-year term.”

The looming deadline of the general election required quick action, and the state Democratic Party went with state Sen. Edgar Brown, who’d run two unsuccessful Congressional races.

Gov. James Byrnes of Charleston had displeased the Democratic establishment with his endorsement of Dwight Eisenhower, but he saw the potential for a write-in candidate that shared his politics. Though Thurmond wasn’t the first he called, he was the most anxious to get in the race, Bass says.

“Thousands of pencils were made with Thurmond’s name on them to signify the write-in campaign,” he says.

Thurmond won, but resigned two years later to allow for a more traditional election. Write-ins since have been met with mixed success, with none matching Thurmond’s senatorial feat.

Boba Fett’s Write-In Loss

A review of write-ins on the ballot during the 2006 statewide elections provide a broad look at what may motivate voters to choose the unprompted option.

Most of the write-in ballots in Charleston County were obviously for a private laugh or to symbolize a complete ambivalence to whom the eventual winner would be.

Mickey was a frequent write-in for various offices, along with Fred Flintstone, Scooby-Doo, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Elmo. A Gamecock voted for Steve Spurrier, an Escape from New York fan voted for Snake Pliskin, and a stormtrooper voted for Boba Fett. Musicians both dead (Bob Marley and Jerry Garcia) and alive (Jon Bon Jovi and Merle Haggard) popped up.

The Lord and Bob Barker each got nods, and Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro also showed up on write-in lines. One voter even wrote in his Volkswagon’s VIN number, and somebody else voted for “My Dick.”

The candidate who received the most write-in challenges, with more than 6,000 statewide, was Attorney General Henry McMaster, a Republican who was running unopposed for reelection. While the leading write-in involved some turn on the phrase “Anybody But That Guy,” several local personalities received a vote or two, including Joe Green, Akim Anastopoulo, Judge Alex Sanders, Post and Courier reporter Robert Behre, and local radio host Richard Todd, who found at least two supporters.

Some voters wrote in the names of primary candidates who’d failed to get their party’s nomination. Florence Mayor Frank Willis received several write-in votes for governor and Republican Mike Campbell got a handful of nods for Lt. Governor. It’s probably safe to suspect that some South Carolina voters will write in their favorite also-rans during this volatile election cycle if given the chance.

And then others use the write-in line to show displeasure for the options given. After state Sen. Tommy Moore, who sponsored the marriage amendment on the ballot in 2006, clinched the Democratic nomination for governor, disenfranchised gay and lesbian voters organized a small, silent campaign to write in particular alternatives they thought would adequately fill that office and others. That decision led to Charleston resident and gay advocate Charlie Smith receiving at least a dozen votes for governor, including one thorough voter who included Smith’s city and street on the ballot.

While he wasn’t soliciting the votes, Smith says he knew others had decided to write in his name. And he also wrote in a few names, including former solicitor David Schwake, a Republican who lost his reelection bid a decade ago after he was forced to come out publicly.

“I wrote in five people’s names because I was so damn pissed off with the Democratic candidates they fielded,” Smith says.

Schwake received at least eight votes for attorney general.

It’s unclear whether the law will actually be repealed this year. Similar legislation has been introduced in the past and failed to even come to a vote in the legislature. We’re not holding out hope, but we’re going to press our Toyota Corolla on its economic stimulus plan, just in case.

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