BOSTON (AP) — Some disaffected voters, including a few public officials, have vowed to write in the name of their ideal candidate rather than pick among Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and other names printed on the ballot.
Most of those write-ins are almost by definition protests votes — whether they're for Mickey Mouse or Mitt Romney — but whether they are actually counted depends on where a voter lives.
The names of write-in candidates often end up being lumped into a single category, unless a write-in hopeful has alerted state election officials or has filled out needed paperwork ahead of time to ensure their ballots are tabulated separately.
In Massachusetts and 33 other states, write-in presidential candidate must fill out paperwork before an election to ensure their ballots are tallied. In a handful of states, write-in voting for presidential candidates is simply not allowed. The remaining states do not require presidential write-in candidates to file special paperwork before the election.
"We generally encourage write-in candidates to notify us they are going to run a write-in campaign because then we'll notify the clerks to specifically count them," said Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin. "If people randomly choose to write in a name, it'll be counted, but it could be counted as 'other.'"
One added hiccup this election could be voters who write in the name of Trump's GOP running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Republican locked in a tight re-election fight with Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, has said she'll do that.
Galvin said write-in votes for Pence in Massachusetts won't be counted for Trump. He's also concerned some voters might simple cross out Trump's name in an attempt to vote for Pence instead.
Another wild card this election is the candidacy of former CIA agent Evan McMullin, who has positioned himself as a conservative alternative to Trump and Clinton and whose campaign appears to be catching on in Utah.
The 40-year-old is on the ballot in 11 states. In other states — including Massachusetts — supporters have filed papers to have write-in ballots for McMullin tallied.
Some states are hearing from a flurry of would-be White House hopefuls.
In Connecticut, 20 write-in candidates have registered with the secretary of the state to have their votes counted. The names won't appear on the ballot, but voting machines are programmed to accept votes for write-ins who have registered.
"Democracy is about choices," said Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. "We want to make sure everyone is aware of the options available to them on Election Day."
Ohio also won't individually tally the votes of write-in candidates, except for those who fill out paperwork. The Ohio secretary of state's office says 18 presidential hopefuls successfully submitted their write-in documents by an August deadline.
West Virginia also requires anyone seeking election to an office by write-in votes to complete a certificate. The West Virginia secretary of state's list shows a whopping 41 presidential candidates whose write-in votes will be tallied.
Oregon is typical for the way some states handle write-in ballots.
The write-in votes will be tallied together, unless the total number of write-in votes equals or exceeds the largest number of votes cast for a candidate printed on the ballot for the same office.
In that case, the state will tally the number of votes for each write-in candidate.
Associated Press writers Susan Haigh in Connecticut, Ann Sanner in Ohio, Michael Virtanen in West Virginia and Andrew Selsky in Oregon contributed to this report.