Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump stole the show on Tuesday night. Both presidential candidates posted double-digit leads over their opponents in New Hampshire, promising that this race will drag on until the snowdrifts outside New England polling places are replaced with blooming buds.
But keep reading the results, past Marco Rubio’s fifth-place finish and Mike Huckabee’s 214 votes, and you’ll find Republican candidate Richard Witz. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of him. According to a story in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the retired school custodian from Massachusetts hasn’t been telling many people about his candidacy. (He’s also a hard guy to get in touch with — we tried to reach him to discuss the results but were unsuccessful.)
“Gee, I didn’t know he was doing that,” State Senator Anne Gobi told the newspaper, adding, “If Donald Trump can run, I guess anyone can.”
In fact, Donald Trump may be responsible for the fact that Witz managed to get at least 105 votes — more than Senator Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Governor Bobby Jindal. Professor Michael Herron at Dartmouth College thinks that most of those pro-Witz votes could have been accidents.
New Hampshire primary ballots list candidates in alphabetical order — but each ward starts with a different letter. The state happens to be a magnet for retirees with spare cash and big political dreams, as it is remarkably easy to qualify for the primary ballot. All you have to do is pay the state $1,000.
There were 58 people running for president on Tuesday -- 30 Republicans and 28 Democrats. Only three were women, and many were old, white men who have been running for president for years. Men like Vermin Supreme, who has been traipsing around New Hampshire with a boot on his head promising to legislate mandatory brushing and free ponies for decades. He got at least 259 votes this year.
But back to Witz. On nearly every ballot, regardless of the order, Witz had the fortune of being right below Donald Trump. All that winning was contagious. It appears that dozens of people on the Trump train could have accidentally gotten off on the wrong ballot bubble.
Herron, who researched how confusing ballots may have affected the vote in Florida during the 2000 presidential election, says it’s possible the same thing was happening in the Democratic primary, although he would need to look more at the data to be sure. Graham Schwass, another candidate from Massachusetts, probably didn’t get 136 votes because people were excited about his anti-human-extinction, pro-environment platform. There were probably just a lot of people feeling the Bern so much that they failed to realize they were filling out the bubble underneath Bernie Sanders’s name.
The same failure in ballot comprehension could have led to most of Rocky de la Fuente’s 93 votes. The rich businessman, who says his Cadillac dealership features the largest flagpole in America, may not have surpassed expectations because Democrats were looking for their own version of Donald Trump, but because his name appeared directly below Hillary Clinton’s on most ballots. Right above Clinton’s name is Steve Burke — who managed to get at least 105 votes.
Professor Chris Galdieri of Saint Anselm College — which hosts the Lesser-Known Candidates Forum every four years — isn’t so sure that the unexpected, if still terribly small, returns for some of these candidates is a result of voter error. “Voters in New Hampshire take the primary pretty seriously. If the candidates got votes, there were probably just a few people who decided to vote for them.” He added that “sometimes people make interesting choices.”
Besides, it’s not like picking from dozens of candidates is a new phenomenon for the state’s voters. Back in 1992, 61 people were running for president. Decades earlier, in 1960, John F. Kennedy only had to run against one person in the New Hampshire primary — but that person happened to be the inventor of the space pen, Paul Fisher, once called the “Henry Ford of the ball-point pen industry” by the Chicago Tribune.
For those who desperately want to believe that these results aren’t just errors headed for the dustbin of democracy, look at the people who received the least votes. Matt Drozd, a former county councilman from Pittsburgh who tried to abolish the county council and get Western Pennsylvania to secede, was sandwiched between two nobodies. He received only five votes. Raymond Moroz, an IT guy from upstate New York who thinks people should vote for Bernie, got 27 votes; Sam Sloan, whose strange chess-power-struggle lawsuit got written up in the New York Post with the headline, “Vulgar Chess Mess” — and who thinks everyone should just vote for Hillary — got 14. Right above Moroz on most ballots was Bill McGaughey, who, according to his website, supports “dignity for white people, especially white males.” He got only 18 votes.
Democrat Ed O’Donnell told Philadelphia Magazine that he had been running for president for 32 years, but was still only able to get 26 votes. If people are worried about his age, he told the magazine, he has a plan. “If I dye my hair black like I did four years ago,” he explains, “if I go to the beach, shave, [use] half a bottle of suntan oil, three hours of sun, ocean, six hour [sic] working at The Sporting Club, whirlpool, sauna, steam, I can look 17.” As he explained to a student reporter at Dartmouth in 2007, if you add up his cumulative results over the years, they don’t look too shabby.
Michael Steinberg was similarly unsuccessful, despite the fact that his campaign website URL is 2016primary.com. (He writes on his website, “If someone is reading this, they probably searched a web browser using words such as ‘2016 primary candidates’ or ‘2016 primary elections.’ … I figured that when people were searching for information about the 2016 primary elections, these are the words they would put in the search engine. When they saw ‘vote for Michael Steinberg in the Democratic Presidential primaries,’ out of curiosity, some might check out my website. My hunch was correct.”)
There were some outliers, of course. Manchester native Andy Martin was nowhere near any of the victors on the ballot, and managed to get even more votes than people with blessed surnames like Witz. Martin’s reputation was probably enough to gain him his 193 supporters — he is credited with starting the birther movement, accusing Obama of being a secret Muslim back in 2004. According to the New York Times, Martin had a reputation even before that; he appeared on a CBS News program in 1993 titled, "See You in Court; Civil War, Anthony Martin Clogs Legal System with Frivolous Lawsuits.”
If the votes received by a few of these are mostly mistakes, Herron thinks “that’s a good thing.” These candidates may have done better than they ever could have hoped -- if Jim Gilmore could get excited about 12 supporters in Iowa, a custodian from Massachusetts is allowed to get excited about 105 votes — but none of them got more than ... 0 percent. “If Graham Schwass was getting 1,000 votes, on the other hand,” Herron adds, “that would make us nervous.”
All of the votes for unfamiliar candidates don’t even include write-in votes — more than 3,000 voters picked candidates who weren’t even on the ballot. Those results have not been tabulated yet. In 2012, a handful of people pregamed for 2016 by voting for Donald Trump on the Republican and Democratic ballots, although he was not quite as popular as the catch-all “Fictional Characters.” Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Glenn Greenwald, and Tom Brady also got a few write-in votes.