Is there any effect when NOT voting for a candidate to an uncontested seat in a primary where a write-in is NOT allowed?

Specifically, I'm voting as a Democrat in the Illinois 2016 primary - sample ballot for my ward screencapped below.


Obviously there is an effect if choose to not vote for a candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court ( effectively 1/3 of a vote for all of 161, 162, 163 ). As well, it would seem that if I choose to not select 171 for the Recorder of Deeds, then my effective vote for that seat is proportionally reduced by the number of distinct write-in candidates.

However, if I leave my selection for Board of Review, 2nd District empty, is there any effective difference to candidate 181?

  • If yes, what is the effect?
  • If no, then what is the reason for listing that seat at all since it is unopposed? Is it just a courtesy to the candidate? Is there a legal requirement? Just logistics of the balloting process?
  • 1
    Yes, the effect is that the reported total of votes cast is increased by one.
    – horns
    Mar 11, 2016 at 22:56
  • 2
    @Kyralessa write ins are not allowed in all situations. As stated at the top of the post, I am specifically asking about races where a write-in is not permitted. Mar 16, 2016 at 15:49
  • 3
    @PeterVandivier, apologies for not paying attention. But to be fair, you should've put the text in bold. Oh wait, you did. Well, uh...I'll see myself out.
    – Kyralessa
    Mar 16, 2016 at 16:06

2 Answers 2


In General Elections, Voting For Unopposed Candidates Sometimes Matters

In very small municipalities and special districts, an unopposed candidate typically needs at least one vote to be elected, so your vote could make that difference if almost no one else ends up voting.

In cases where, contrary to your question, there is a write in possibility and your vote for an unopposed candidate sets the number of write in candidate votes needed to defeat the otherwise unopposed candidate.

Some states also dissolve small political entities as a matter of law, or commence a process to determine if they should continue to exist, if not enough votes have been cast in multiple recent elections for its offices.

Finally, it isn't uncommon in a general election, for the number of votes cast for an unopposed candidate to factor into a formula for the number of signatures required on recall petition, or for a citizen's initiative proposal.

For example, in Colorado, "The signature threshold to place a recall question on the ballot for a state or county elected official is 25% of the total votes cast at the last preceding general election for that office."

Similarly, the state secretary of state position is not infrequently uncontested, but:

In Colorado, the number of signatures required for a successful petition is equal to 5 percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of Colorado secretary of state in the preceding general election. The secretary of state is elected every four years. Elections were held for Colorado secretary of state in 2018. The same total number of signatures is required for constitutional amendments, statutes, and referendums.

Sometimes local governments also have initiative thresholds that depend upon the number of votes cast for an office that may be unopposed.

In Primary Elections, Casting A Ballot Matters More Than Casting A Vote For A Particular Unopposed Candidate

In a primary election, in a jurisdiction that isn't entirely moribund, none of these factors are likely to matter.

Casting a ballot at all, causes a public record that you voted to be produced which often prevents your voter registration from being classified as inactive, and also signals to candidate and political party campaigns in future races that you are an active voter in a particular location who is sufficiently politically engaged to vote, even in a primary which may be uncontested, making you a target for volunteer and campaign contribution calls, but also a lower priority for get out the vote messages.

what is the reason for listing that seat at all since it is unopposed? Is it just a courtesy to the candidate? Is there a legal requirement? Just logistics of the balloting process?

The unopposed candidate is on the ballot at all, mostly for informational purposes as a well paced campaign ad for that candidate in anticipation of the general election. This is mandated by state election law.

Some jurisdictions cancel primary elections entirely if there are no opposed candidates for any office. Fewer jurisdictions still only list contested races, but this is the exception, and not the rule.

But, to finally answer the actual question asked, the considerations that go into not voting for a particular unopposed candidate on a ballot that is going to be cast otherwise are mostly symbolic:

  • Voting for a candidate shows some sign, however trivial, of support for the unopposed candidate and will be viewed by the candidate as part of their base of support in the general election for planning purposes.

  • In contrast, an unopposed primary candidate who receives far less support than other candidates on the ballot will typically be viewed as unpopular with the base and a weak candidate, with the implicit signal that by not casting a vote for the unopposed candidate that you are so unimpressed with the candidate (or so ignorant of the candidate) that you aren't willing to do so. It isn't a loud or strong signal, but collectively, it can send a message too.

  • 3
    "the state secretary of state position is not infrequently uncontested" That's not an entirely unremarkable number of negatives. Oct 1, 2020 at 3:30
  • 1
    @Acccumulation Alas, "not infrequently" is not equivalent to "frequently" in ordinary English usage,,and is probably closer to sometimes or occasionally, even though naive logic would suggest otherwise.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 1, 2020 at 3:42

Only voting has an effect. Not voting has no effect.

The difference between multiple candidates running against one another and a single candidate running unopposed is in what happens if you do vote. In a contested race, your vote for one of the candidate contributes to that candidate's relative advantage over the other candidates. In an uncontested race, voting for the candidate has the effect that your vote is recorded, and cannot affect the outcome of the race.

Unopposed candidates are legally required to appear on the ballot. Other reasons for including them may include: to inform the voter about who is running, and to avoid confusion over certain elected positions "missing" from the ballot.

  • 4
    To rephrase then - is there any effect beyond the recording of the vote? Does it benefit the Election Commision, Party, or Candidate in any to cast a vote such that not casting it is detrimental by omission ( excluding the vanity of the candidate - "I got X votes!" vs "I got X+1 votes!" ). Perhaps is it a datapoint in some voter participation algorithm in some lobbyist database? With the foregone action of the casting of my ballot, is this checkbox anything but a waste of ink? Mar 11, 2016 at 21:16
  • In general, no. However, there may be individual organizations, municipalities, etc. that make some use of this data. I'm not sure how this data would be useful to anyone, though. Usually the relevant statistics are total voter turnout and the percentage of total votes that a candidate acquired. I doubt that anyone would notice or care if an unopposed candidate got 100% of the vote without all turned out voters having voted for them.
    – Era
    Mar 11, 2016 at 21:40
  • @Era Undervote for particular races is reported as a matter of course in almost every election. Almost every race has some undervoting. Uncontested races usually have more undervote than contested races. But if a candidate had a particularly high undervote in an uncontested race compared to other historical and present undervotes in the jurisdiction in such races that would send a message to the candidate's campaign that would be investigated, although not necessarily with much urgency.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 29, 2020 at 21:21

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