In the year 20XX, Cthulhu is "elected" President of United States.

Namely, by "elected", I mean that enough people in the right patterns and places vote for Cthulhu[1] that 270+ electoral votes by the current per-state electoral vote allocation rules would go to that name.

[1] - I'm not sure how many legit ways there are to achieve that result, but let's assume for the sake of argument that it is write-in ballots.

What happens then?

Obviously, Cthulhu (being a fictional character) is not constitutionally eligible to hold the post of the President. So, the final outcome is obvious, someone else gets to be President.

What my specific question is:

  • What is the exact constitutional and legal process by which Cthulhu would be disqualified and someone else chosen?

    Would it be at per-state state elector level process? 12th Amendment process once the electoral college votes are read by VP to Congress? Other point?

If the procedures would different depending on whether Cthulhu is elected from an established party, or an independent; if so, please explain both options process; but I'm kind of assuming that in the former case Cthulhu somehow manages to get declared a candidate by a party convention successfully.

  • 8
    @user4012 Perhaps you should replace Cthulhu with someone proven to not be a U.S. citizen or of age after the election, but prior to the swearing in. My bet would be the vice president elect assumes the position. Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 16:34
  • 1
    After much consideration I decided to upvote the question. Although the premise of Cthulhu receiving enough write-in votes is preposterous, the idea of prominent people writing in alternate candidates (like several GOP Senators suggested they'd do instead of voting for Trump during the 2016 election) is relevant and worth discussion.
    – RWW
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 18:48
  • 2
    I initially didn't take this seriously, but upon re-reading it I see where you're going with it. It's on-topic in the sense that I've often wondered what would happen if enough people wrote in, say, Mickey Mouse. I reworded the title to try and make this more obvious
    – Machavity
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 20:17
  • 4
    Possible duplicate of Hypothetical challenge to the 22nd Amendment
    – Joshua
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 20:58
  • 4
    I must add a comment about Tião the Monkey in Rio de Janeiro. He was a bad-mood monkey in the city Zoo and jokingly announced as a candidate for mayor in the 1988 elections. He got more than 400.000 votes, reaching 3rd place then, but since he was not a valid candidate, all the votes were considered null.
    – gmauch
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 17:29

4 Answers 4


Ignoring the absurdity of Cthulhu or any other fictional character winning the Presidential General Election, the premise as stated can't happen. Not all States accept write-in ballots. In fact, nine don't accept them at all, thirty-three do, but only if the candidate had already filed paperwork earlier. NBC did a small write up about in 2016 here and Ballotpedia has a blurb about it here. For the ones that required paperwork, all must abide by the Constitution in determining who is allowed on a ballot.

To run as a write-in candidate in New york for example:

You are required to file a certificate of candidacy with the State Board of Elections no later than the third Tuesday prior to the general election. The certificate must be signed by the presidential candidate and must contain the following information:

  • Name and address of presidential candidate
  • Name and address of any vice-presidential candidate, and a signed certificate of acceptance from such candidate
  • Name and address of at least one elector, with an acceptance certificate and pledge of support signed by each such candidate for elector.

New York State Board of Elections

As for Cthulu being on the ballot in any other way, being fictional and as stated in the questions comments, not a U.S. Citizen he would be ineligible to run.

Since his votes wouldn't count in most States, the next person to receive the most votes would win the electors in those States.

  • 9
    Since the write in candidate is ineligible (not a US citizen, not 35 years old (no valid birth certificate)), all votes cast are invalid according to FEDERAL law. Thus it doesn't matter what the states' laws are.
    – CramerTV
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 23:35
  • 7
    @CramerTV - Except for the constitution itself, federal law can't tell states what votes do and don't count. Those are constitutional requirements, but I don't think it's entirely accurate to ascribe them to "Federal law".
    – Bobson
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 0:12
  • 9
    Here's the thing, though: most voters don't elect the President. The Electoral College does that. That ballot is governed by federal laws, not state laws. How electors are selected is done by state laws, but once selected, electors are free to vote for whomever they want. So the question would be, what happens to an elector's ballot if they vote for a fictional character? Would it be as though they had not voted? Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 4:03
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    Ignoring the absurdity of Cthulhu -> I guess that the OP actually expects answerers to ignore that absurdity. It was just an example. Maybe it helps to explain that in certain social circles, it is not uncommon to construct/use very fictional characters, or even meta variables like "Foo" or "Bar" which carry no intrinsic meaning; one such circle is the programming circle. Using obviously fictional constructions frees one from producing non-intended comedy or half-true examples which sound plausible to the untaught, but ridiculous to those in the ken.
    – phoobar
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 15:54
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    @NicolBolas that is incorrect. State laws govern how electors are allowed to vote once selected. There is a write up at (archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/electors.html) and (huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/…).
    – RWW
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 21:26

By the Twelfth Amendment, if no candidate has a majority of the Electoral College vote (which means over half the number of Electors, not over half the number of valid ballots), then the top three vote-getters go to the House, and the state delegations in the House will vote. That requires a majority of state delegations. If the House hasn't chosen by March 4, the Vice President acts as President. Since electors must vote for a "person", and Cthulhu is not a person, I assume those ballots would be rejected by the Senate and the House.

Supposing that Cthulhu's running mate is Yog-Sothoth, there'd be the same problem, but resolved by a majority vote of Senators from the top two. There is a difference in the language, saying the Senators must vote between the top two numbers, and it's conceivable that the top two numbers could be Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep. I suspect those ballots would be disregarded, though. Yog-Sothoth is not Constitutionally eligible to be President, so is therefore not constitutionally eligible to be Vice-President.

It's unclear what would happen if there were no ballots for an eligible person for President or Vice-President, but I really don't expect that to happen.

  • " I assume those ballots would be rejected by the Senate and the House." - that's what the point of the question is; sorry this doesn't answer it in any meaningful detail or citations
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 17:35
  • 2
    "If the House hasn't chosen by March 4" that's been superseded by the Twentieth Amendment, which sets the beginning of presidential terms to January 20. Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 0:18
  • "It's unclear what would happen if there were no ballots for an eligible person for President or Vice-President, but I really don't expect that to happen." I believe the next step is a descent into gibbering madness. Ia! Ia!
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 2:02
  • 1
    @user4012 Like many hypothetical situations, this hasn't happened. As far as I know, all electoral votes have been for real people. There can be no citations, and it's all speculation. Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 3:56
  • @JustinLardinois You're right - the change from March 4 to the standard inauguration time if there is no President-elect is there. I missed it. Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 3:58

In order to get on the ballot, a candidate for president of the United States must meet a variety of complex, state-specific filing requirements and deadlines. These regulations, known as ballot access laws, determine whether a candidate or party will appear on an election ballot. These laws are set at the state level. A presidential candidate must prepare to meet ballot access requirements well in advance of primaries, caucuses, and the general election. - Ballotpedia

Based on the above, a fictional character would not be permitted to appear on the ballot(s)

  • To be fair, that just says state laws determine who can appear on ballots, not necessarily that a fictional character (or rather, their representative) can't file the proper paperwork. Plus, that link says 8 states don't require write-in candidates to file any paperwork in order to be counted.
    – Giter
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 20:49

So Cthulhu will be disqualified for any number of legal reasons (although there are no fictional characters blockers BUT the fact that he was not a legal resident of U.S. Territory at the time it became U.S. Territory.). The United States recognizes both Jus Soli and Jus Sanguinis (citizenship by birth in territory, citizenship by parent citizenship) as counting for Natural Born Citizen. As such, you would have to prove that Cthulhu was either living in present day U.S. Territory (or was born in territory formerly held by the U.S. but no longer U.S. Territory. Given his enternal slumber in the Pacific ocean, this is highly unlikely) or that his parents were U.S. Citizens (again, impossible, as I'm not sure of the circumstances of his parantage, the fact that he predates the U.S. means that his parents could not be U.S. Citizens).

So, lets say this was a massive write in of a person who was not qualified to be President. These votes would be disqualified by the fact of disqualifications of the candidate to legally serve as President (Natural Born Citizen of age 35 or over and 14 years living within the nation) and would be counted as if they did not choose the vote at all. Each state would determine who the runner up in the race is and declare them the winner (and save for two states, they would take electoral all votes for that state). Supposing that the candidates are either of two big parties were next, they would get those points, even if Cthulu had 93% of the vote in that state.

Should there be a massive write in and no candidate gets a victory (271 votes), congress will determine the winner in a special session. I believe the House chooses the President and the Senate will choose the vice president, though it may be reversed. It will be the incumbent legislature, rather than the newly elected (the House is potentially a lame ducks at this point, as is 1/3rd of the Senate).

For a common analogy, think of the electoral college vs. popular vote as a Baseball League vs. a Soccer League and that the points scored are the votes.

Baseball will send it's to best teams to a league contest, which is played in a Series of games (The World Series is best 4 games out of 7). It doesn't matter that the second place team had a blow out in two of their three victories and thus, through the entire series, were the stronger point getter, the winning team was able to win four games to their three and thus are the champions. Conversely, Soccer tallies all points scored over all games played and the team that scored the most points is declared the winner, even though they might not have the most game wins. (This is a major plot point in Harry Potter, as Quidditch leagues are run the same way. In at least one point, the final game is between the Slytherin and Gryffindor teams. Slytherin had scored 200 points more than Gryffindor prior to the match, and thus, Gryffindor not only need to catch the Snitch (150 points) but needed to maintain a 60 point lead before they could get that 150 (and take the trophy with a 10 point lead over the second place team). There were several parts during this match where Harry had to prevent an early capture of the Snitch by both him and his opponent because the score was only 30 up.).

  • " These votes would be disqualified by the fact of disqualification and would be counted as if they did not choose the vote at all." - this may be an answer, but it needs some citations for the actual mechanism of how that "disquaification" would work
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 17:34
  • Edited to clarify, @user4012
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 17:52
  • Cthulhu's candidacy has problems even before the election. In most if not all states a candidate has to demonstrate eligibility for office before being placed on the ballot. A number of states don't allow write-in votes, or don't count them, so he/she/it would have no chance of getting the requisite number of Electoral College votes.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 18:02
  • 1
    @jamesqf: I agree. The premise was that the fictional character did pull the big upset at the polls. I assumed write in because that is the only way it could potentially happen.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 19:08
  • @jamesqf - if you can provide details (including disqialification of write ins) it would make for an excellent answer
    – user4012
    Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 22:29

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