Boomers Embraced Voting for Write-In Candidates

The tumultuous presidential election of 1968 was the first in which any Baby Boomer was old enough to vote. Many saw, in that election, a system that did not coincide with their vision of a better and more peaceful planet. Therefore, many first-time boomer voters decided that their vote would not go to support the same political parties that mired the country in the social unrest and foreign wars of the day. They wanted to change the world, man! For them, and thousands of other voters from coast to coast, only a write-in candidate would do.

Write-in candidates were not new to the election process in 1968. Every four years, there is always a group of people dissatisfied with the candidates from the two major parties. So, people have been taking advantage of their right to write-ins since the 1800s. Rules for write-ins, however, differ greatly from state to state. In fact, five states — Hawaii, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina and South Dakota — have never allowed write-in candidates. Louisiana joined the five in 1975, favoring instead a system in which anyone can get on the regular ballot, regardless of their party affiliation. Through the years stipulations have changed as well. In some states, a candidate must declare him or herself a write-in candidate before the election and in most, pay a fee. These “official” write-in candidates will not be on the ballot, per se, but are on a list that is required to be posted at polling stations.

Of course, people have been writing in all sorts of names over the years, real and fictional. In states that require registering, any name written in that is not on the list is discarded and the vote not counted. If there are votes for names on the official list, they must be sorted by hand, which is why election workers have perennially complained about write-in candidates. In some elections, the write-ins have kept workers going late into the night. For individual voters, however, write-ins have been their own personal protest.

As such, people have chosen all sorts of write-in names. Some come up in every election, while others are tied to a particular era. “Mickey Mouse” has probably received the most write-in votes of any fictional non-candidate. Reports indicate the Disney character has received votes in every presidential election since Mickey appeared in Steamboat Willie in 1928. Election officials in Georgia fought this trend by attempting to remind voters that a candidate had to be real, and follow the Constitutional requirements for running for president. Consequently, since 1987, no one has been allowed to vote for Mickey Mouse in that state.

Other common write-in votes of the Boomer Era that were cast in appreciable numbers included:

Donald Duck: in some states he was as popular as Mickey Mouse
Bozo the Clown: many people figured if they were putting a clown in the White House, it might as well be Bozo
Johnny Carson: the late night talk show host got votes throughout the 1960s and ’70s
Frank Zappa: the Mother of Invention was inspiration for several early-to-mid-era boomer voters
Miss Piggy: the beloved Muppet character from Jim Henson received the vote of many late-age boomers in the 1970s
Zippy the Pinhead: Bill Griffith’s quintessential 1970s underground comic character turned syndicated comic character captured many boomers’ humor and satire, and their vote

State election boards list a host of votes for other “candidates,” including the names of sports stars, spouses and even, “Me.” In the 1960 election, “Bacon” received votes in Georgia, and “Seymour Butts” was making the rounds in the 1960s.

Pigasus Pig
One of the more infamous write-in candidates of the Boomer Era was Pigasus Pig. Just before the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the Youth International Party (YIPPIES) decided to name their own write-in candidate, and “he” would be a real pig — a 145 pound animal that was purchased from a farmer for the occasion. YIPPIES leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin demanded that the government treat the pig’s candidacy the same as other candidates, and afford Pigasus White House briefings and Secret Service protection. Instead, at a rally in Grant Park to announce the candidacy, Pigasus Pig was confiscated by the Chicago police on the grounds that an old city ordinance against bringing livestock into the city had been violated. YIPPIES leaders were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct but were later released when they posted $25 bail.

Pigasus became the property of The Anti-Cruelty Society, according to the Chicago Tribune, and lived out his days on a farm along with Mrs. Pigasus and a piglet that the YIPPIES had also purchased for the theatrical candidacy. Despite the party’s failure to get Pigasus a declared candidate, his name became a write-in for some sympathetic boomers.

While voting for a write-in candidate may seem like a good idea at the time, ultimately, when it comes to a presidential election, the vote is wasted. There have been documented incidents of write-in candidates winning state office, and even Congressional seats, but the president is actually elected by the Electoral College. As such, it is highly unlikely a presidential write-in will ever win.

How about it, boomers? Did you cast your first vote for president — or subsequent votes —  for a write-in candidate?

Boomers Saw Their Favorite Characters Run for President

Now that the presidential nomination conventions of the two major parties have finished, the hard work of campaigning in the run-up to Election Day has begun. During boomers’ formative years, TV shows, magazines, ad agencies, PR firms and marketing companies all saw the potential of promoting their characters in fake political campaigns to a generation whose oldest members were just beginning to reach legal voting age.

The voting age was 21, as noted in the song, Eve of Destruction, when Barry McGuire sang, “You’re old enough to kill, but not for voting.”  The earliest boomers were angry that they could be drafted into the army yet could not take part in the voting process. It would not be until July of 1971 before the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and the age was changed to 18.

Many comics, writers and actors saw that 1968 battlefield as a theater of the absurd, so it was a natural evolution that popular characters would be paraded out to run for president. There had already been a tradition of fake campaigns dating back to the 1920s, when there was a Betty Boop for President campaign for the cartoon character, and the 1930s, when humorist Will Rogers mounted his faux run for the presidency.

Here are some favorite TV, comic book and cartoon characters who ran presidential campaigns in the Boomer Generation’s formative years of the ’60s and ’70s:

Howdy Doody, 1948
For many boomers, their first television memories are of the puppet Howdy Doody. In 1948, when the first boomers were just three years old, Puppet Playhouse Presents Howdy Doody ran a TV episode that featured a Howdy Doody for President theme.

Huckleberry Hound, 1960
The year John F. Kennedy was elected president, Huckleberry Hound had a running storyline in a comic book outlining his campaign for president.

Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla, 1964
In a crossover attempt in two comic books, Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla “ran” against each other for president. Buttons and campaign memorabilia were printed and distributed through the comic books. Each purchase was considered a vote for the candidate. Yogi’s vice presidential pick was Huckleberry Hound. Dozens of these buttons and pins are still available online today.

Pat Paulsen, 1968, et al
You can’t mention presidential candidates, real or not, without mentioning Pat Paulsen. He is perhaps the most persistent non-candidate in election history. Paulsen ran for president in 1968, ’72, ’80, ’88, ’92 and ’96. These were official attempts, though his campaign speeches were all tongue-in-cheek. He “ran” on the Straight Talking American Government (STAG) Party, but got on the ballot as a Republican and Democrat in many state primaries. Paulsen actually finished second to George Bush in 1992 in the North Dakota Republican Primary, and finished second to Bill Clinton in 1996 in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary.

It all began in 1967, when Paulsen, a comic and musician, was singing parodies of folk singers in comedy clubs. His friend, Tommy Smothers, caught his act one night and offered him a job writing songs for his TV show, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

Paulsen started on-air appearances on the show as a befuddled and disgruntled editorialist with deadpan humor. Tommy Smothers suggested he take his character into a presidential campaign and the rest is history. In our era of sound bites, we can recall that in political campaigns, the tag line served as the sound bite of its day. Paulsen had favorite tag lines used in his campaigns. In 1968 he had one printed on buttons that pictured his head on the body of a bald eagle. The tag line read, “I’ve upped my standards … Now up yours!” In live appearances and TV interviews, he was fond of saying, “If elected, I will win.”

In 1970, Paulsen was given his own show, Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour. It only lasted 13 weeks, but on the very first show, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was a guest. It was a testimonial to the influence of comedy on elections.

Dick Gregory, 1968
Comedian and Civil Rights activist Dick Gregory launched his campaign in the 1968 election. He had fake dollar bills printed with his face on them. The headlines above and below his portrait said,  “For President of The United States of America — Gregory — One Vote.”  The satirical implication was obvious — he was buying your vote.

Snoopy, 1968
The popular Charles Shultz comic character had a storyline of the dog running for president, but the campaign went up a notch when The Royal Guardsmen released a song called, Snoopy for President. It sounded suspiciously like The Royal Guardsmen’s Snoopy vs. Red Baron and other Snoopy Christmas songs. In fact, we recall The Royal Guardsmen today only for their Snoopy songs.

Alfred E. Neuman, 1968
In Mad magazine’s 11th Annual Edition of More Trash From Mad the cover features a drawing of LBJ stepping out of the presidential limousine. His car sports an Alfred E. Neuman for President bumper sticker and the gate post, with the address 1600 visible, had a poster for candidate Neuman. The bumper sticker and poster came with the issue.

Again in 1972, a Mad cover featured Alfred E. Neuman for President. This time, the candidate himself was pictured with a straw convention hat that had been smashed over his head. The band around the hat held the pitch, Alfred E. Neuman for President.

Archie Bunker, 1972
Though his “campaign” was not part of the All In the Family TV show itself, Archie Bunker seemed a natural to run for president, with his over-the-top opinions on everything. The Archie Bunker campaign was a PR move, complete with campaign buttons. You’ll find the buttons for sale online.

These are just a few, since there were many more before, during and after the ’60s and ’70s.

Do you recall a favorite cartoon, comic book or TV character who ran for president, boomers? Did you obtain campaign memorabilia back then?