Did Ballot Access Laws that Barred Evan McMullin from the Ballot in Some States Alter the Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election?

Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin launched his candidacy on August 8, 2016. He got on the ballot in eleven states. In those eleven states, he received 510,002 votes, and the total presidential vote in those eleven states was 21,004,501. Therefore, in the states where he was on the ballot, he received 2.43% of the total valid votes cast.

He was not on the ballot in Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin. If those states had voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton would have received a majority of the electoral college votes.

If McMullin had been on the ballot in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, and if his support in those states had matched his support in the states in which he was on the ballot, then he would have received, respectively: Michigan 116,623; Pennsylvania 148,916; Wisconsin 71,767. Those totals are far larger than the margin by which Trump defeated Clinton in all three states. The margins between Trump and Clinton were: Michigan 10,704; Pennsylvania 44,292; Wisconsin 22,748.

McMullin’s campaign focused on persuading Republicans to vote for McMullin instead of Trump. It is reasonable to assume that where McMullin was on the ballot, a large majority of the people who voted for him were voters who would otherwise have voted Republican for President. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that if restrictive ballot access laws had not kept McMullin off the ballot in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton would now be President.

An actual example exists for Minnesota. Clinton carried Minnesota by 44,765 votes. McMullin was on in Minnesota and got 53,076 votes there.

McMullin had the capacity to complete petitions in states in which 5,000 signatures were required. He successfully got that many valid signatures in Kentucky and Virginia, both of which require 5,000. Pennsylvania only required 5,000 signatures, and Wisconsin only required 2,000, but McMullin couldn’t qualify in those two states because the deadlines were too early. Pennsylvania’s was August 1 and Wisconsin’s was August 2.

States could have had late August or early September petition deadlines, without harming election administration. In 2016, these six states had September deadlines: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Rhode Island (the Florida deadline was the minor party deadline, not the independent deadline). These states had deadlines in the last week of August: Idaho, Oregon, Virginia, and Wyoming.


Did Ballot Access Laws that Barred Evan McMullin from the Ballot in Some States Alter the Winner of the 2016 Presidential Election? — 10 Comments

  1. And yet he filed ZERO lawsuits after he said he would. This shows that he and the people backing him behind the scenes didn’t really want to change anything.

  2. You can’t credibly include Utah and Idaho in your analysis.

    You are also assuming that voters inclined to vote for McMullin, voted for Trump. Some would surely have voted for Johnson or even Stein, and some would have voted for Clinton.

  3. Gary Johnson was on the ballot in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and covered the spread between Trump and Clinton in all three states. Did he take votes away from Clinton? One cannot say so with confidence. Without ranked voting, it’s difficult to know who was the second choice of Johnson voters. As a Johnson voter myself, I would have selected McMullin as my second choice, Stein as my third choice, Trump as my fourth choice, and Clinton as my fifth choice. Make of that whatever you want.

  4. Interesting article here.

    As others suggested, it isn’t likely that Egg McMuffin would have received 2.43% of the vote in any of Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Wisconsin had he been on the ballot on those states. That’s because that 2.43% is skewed by outsized performances he had in Utah and to a lesser extent, Idaho.

    Still, it is likely that he would have received more votes in those states had he been on the ballot. I don’t know what is the most likely amount he would have received in those states, but I think the best predictor, especially for Wisconsin, is what he did in Minnesota and Iowa, where he was on the ballot. Those two states diverge widely:
    In Iowa, McMuffin received .79% of the vote. In Minnesota, he received 1.8% of the vote.

    Here’s how I would break the three states down individually:

    – Michigan: Trump won by under 9k votes, and .22% cast. McMuffin wasn’t on the ballot and didn’t have write-ins tabulated separately for him, but .52% of the votes cast (about 25k) were write in votes. If he had been on the ballot, I think the write in total would have been less, but some of the vote total would have come from Trump. Since that state was so close, I think it’s reasonably probable that his presence on the ballot would have changed the outcome in Michigan.
    – Pennsylvania: Trump won by 44k votes, and .71% of the vote cast. McMuffin wasn’t on the ballot, but his write ins were tabulated and he received .07% of the vote. A ballot line probably would have improved his total, but a performance comparable to his performance in Iowa probably would have been just barely enough to put him over, but only if all of his votes were taken from Trump. Therefore, I think it is a stretch to say that PA would have changed, because I don’t think PA would have been a strong state for him, and I don’t think all of his votes would have been taken from Trump, but instead, some of them would have come from Johnson and Castle who were on the ballot.
    – Wisconsin: Trump won by almost 23K votes, and .77% of the vote cast. McMuffin wasn’t on the ballot, but his write ins were tabulated and he received .40% of the vote. If he had a ballot line, his performance would have improved, but if it improved to Iowa-like levels, all taken from Trump, he wouldn’t have changed the outcome in Wisconsin, though if it improved to Minnesota-like levels, all taken from Trump, it would have changed the outcome.

    Keep in mind that all three states would have had to flip to Hillary to change the outcome of the election. Also, he did receive write in votes that were tabulated in PA and Wisconsin (but not Michigan).

    It would have taken all three of these states to flip to change the outcome of the election. I can flip Michigan, and maybe Wisconsin, but I don’t see how Pennsylvania would have been different. Of course, this assumes all of his additional votes would have been taken from Trump. Although the primary purpose of his candidacy was to take votes from Trump, I believe another purpose was to take votes from Johnson to reduce his viability. Some of those additional votes would have reduced Johnson’s totals in those states, and those votes would not have had an effect on the outcome.

  5. Michigan did count McMullin’s write-ins. He got 8,177.

    McMullin’s percentages where he was on the ballot were: Arkansas 1.17%; Colorado 1.04%; Idaho 6.73%; Iowa .80%; Kentucky 1.18%; Louisiana .42%; Minnesota 1.82%; New Mexico .73%; South Carolina 1.00%; Utah 21.54%; Virginia 1.37%.

    The so-called Pennsylvania write-in total can’t be trusted. Many populous counties in Pennsylvania refuse to tally write-ins. The smaller-population counties do count them, generally. So the state adds up the votes it receives from the counties, but never tells the bad counties to follow the law. This is partly because Pennsylvania is the only populous state without a write-in tally procedure. So theoretically all write-ins are legal and should be counted. But in reality, it is so much work to tally all of them, the bigger counties just throw up their hands and count none of them. The Pennsylvania Department of State disguises this by refusing to release a county-by-county breakdown of McMullin’s write-ins.

    If Utah were excluded from the nationwide McMullin calculation, he still got 1.27% of the vote in the states where he was on the ballot. That percentage applied to Pennsylvania would have given him 77,829 votes in Pennsylvania, more than enough to flip the outcome in Pennsylvania.

  6. TomP said:
    “I believe another purpose was to take votes from Johnson to reduce his viability. ”
    An interesting point. I recall that before McMullin declared, there were polls showing Johnson doing very well in Utah.

  7. You are still ignoring Idaho, where the McMullin vote was concentrated in the southeast, which has a heavy Mormon presence.

    In his best county of Madison, he got 30% of the vote. Comparing 2008 to 2016, the Republican candidate lost about 1/3 of his vote share (84% to 57%) but this is also true for the Democratic candidate (12% to 8%). You simply cannot consider a county where McMullin received almost 4-times as many votes as Clinton as typical of the United States.

    You appear to be modeling the Trump voter as a Republican who loathed Trump, but would vote for a generic Republican even if he was Trump. But if a voter loathed Trump, he might have voted for Clinton or Johnson or Stein. Putting McMullin on the ballot is not likely to take votes from Trump, particularly in states that were close.

  8. The information source for my first reply was Dave Leip’s Atlas. I didn’t look carefully enough at the Michigan totals, but a closer look shows that they did tabulate McMullin’s vote.

    I looked more closely at Pennsylvania. The point made about inconsistent tallying of write in votes is borne out by Dave Leip’s Atlas. If you click on Pennsylvania, then click on individual counties, some will show a McMullin vote and some won’t. His published totals show 4073 write in votes tabulated and reported for him, and show 47,285 write in votes that are not assigned to any particular individual.

    It has to be assumed that in the untabulated write in total, some of those votes were cast for McMullin, and therefore would be unaffected by his name appearing on the ballot. The question is, how many. If you look at individual counties that did tabulate McMullin’s write ins, McMullin’s highest percentage appears to be Centre County at .48% of the vote. The next highest is Union County with .37% of the vote, followed by Clearfield county at .21% of the vote. (I’ll admit that I didn’t check each county individually, so there may be some different totals). There are about a dozen or so other counties that separately tabulated him, and the most commonly appearing percentage is .20% among these counties that did count his votes.

    A total of 6,166,710 votes were cast for President in Pennsylvania. The Trump’s winning margin over Hillary was 44,292. If we assume that the number of votes actually already cast for McMullin (as a write in) is equal to his tabulated Centre County percentage, that means that 29,600 votes were actually cast for McMullin. If you add the Trump victory margin to this (based on the assumption that having a ballot line would get him this number of additional votes, all taken from Trump), McMullin would have 73,892 votes, or 1.20% of the overall total. Alternatively, if we assume that the number of votes already cast for McMullin (as a write in) is equal to 0.2%, the most common percentage he obtained, he would have 12,333 votes already. Adding Trump’s winning margin to this (based on the same assumption), McMullin would have 56,625 votes, or 0.92% of the overall total vote cast in PA.

    Frankly, based on my knowledge of Pennsylvania (I grew up there and still have family there), I have doubts whether McMullin could have achieved either of these vote thresholds had he been on the ballot. Also, given Trump’s message of economic nationalism, which really resonated in much of PA, I’m not entirely certain McMullin’s increased votes would have come entirely from Trump. In PA, I think McMullin would have hurt Clinton and Johnson as much as Trump. I’m also not sure which state where McMullin was already on the ballot would be the best comparison to PA. I think Minnesota and Iowa could be used to project what could have happened in Wisconsin, but I’m not sure that they would compare as well to PA.

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