As the presidential race began slipping away from Hillary Clinton on 8 November 2016, many people took to Twitter to blame third party candidates (such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson) for siphoning away votes from the Democratic candidate — with such complaints including the claim that thousands of voters had cast write-in “protest” votes for Harambe, the gorilla controversially killed at the Cincinnati Zoo in May 2016 after a child fell into his pen:
The Daily Snark, an entertainment web site that publishes satirical material, added some misplaced credibility to this claim when they published an article repeating it:
You may asked what the Unites States did to narrow 350,000,000 people down to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as their leader. Keep in mind, this is the same county that at the same time is still mourning the death of a dead gorilla.
By around 1:00am ET, the dead gorilla racked up more than 15,000 write-in votes for the presidency on election night.
It’s possible that some voters actually did write in Harambe’s name, as many people tweeted to assert they did:
— Jeffrey Hernandez (@Mexicanabanana) November 9, 2016
However, the claim that the gorilla received 15,000 votes (or any other specific number) is not yet backed up by any actual data.
On 8 November 2016, the general election votes were still being counted, and a running vote tally was not available for write-in candidates. In fact, any write-in votes for “Harambe” would most likely have been counted as “unofficial votes” and not tallied separately in the majority of states, which require write-in candidates to fill out paperwork before the election to ensure their votes are counted separately:
Some people displeased with the candidates for president this year have announced their plans to cast a write-in vote, whether it’s for Bernie Sanders or Mike Pence.
But will that vote count? No, except in rare circumstances. You might as well write in Mickey Mouse, something that happens distressingly often, said Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton.
Washington and Idaho are two of the 32 states where people have to officially file as write-in candidates before the election.
If a Washington ballot has a write-in candidate, it’s set aside. The votes for all official write-in candidates are counted, but a vote for any unofficial candidate — like Mickey Mouse — is not. It’s simply tallied as an unofficial vote.
“We encourage write-in candidates to notify us when they are going to run a write-in campaign because then we’ll notify the clerks to specifically count them,” explains 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.’”
We don’t know how many people voted for Harambe during the presidential election. But anyone claiming that “15,000” (or any other number of) people voted for the deceased gorilla is repeating a false claim.