[Image via matchack]

The presidential nomination campaign is underway and voters have begun to speak. As they do, some candidates don’t hear their names often enough and leave the race. Yet, because ballot qualification and printing needs to happen so far in advance of Election Day, election administration and politics are on two very different schedules – and very often, leaving the race doesn’t mean exiting the ballot.

I like to call these out-of-the-race-but-still-on-the-ballot candidates “ghost ships” … and they can create challenges for voters and election officials alike. Consider this WFTV story from Seminole County, Florida where the aftermath of the campaign means a small fleet of ghost ships:

Although former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has dropped out from the presidential race, his name remains on Florida’s primary ballot.
Tens of thousands of absentee ballots have been cast[] already in Florida, some with Bush’s name on them. Supervisors of elections have received calls from voters, asking if they can recast their vote now that Bush has suspended his campaign.
“Every single year, we get these calls, and every single year, it’s no surprise,” Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said.
Ertel said the answer is always the same: No.
The law says absentee ballots have to be mailed out 45 days before an election for military [and overseas voters], so when the ballots were mailed in December, all the candidates’ names were on them.

That means election officials must do everything they can to maximize the chance voters avoid boarding a ghost ship – including encouraging them to hold their ballots as long as possible:

Ertel said it’s too expensive to reprint the ballot every time a candidate drops out, which can also lead to more mistakes. He said a voter’s best bet is to wait until March 1 to cast.
Half of the candidates on the absentee ballot have suspended their campaigns.
Just because a candidate’s campaign is suspended doesn’t mean someone’s vote won’t count, because that person is technically still in the race. A person is officially off the ballot if they withdraw from the race, and none of the candidates have withdrawn yet. [emphasis added]
Supervisors are using Twitter, Facebook and their websites to try and reach voters to let them know which candidates ha[ve] suspended their campaigns.

Complicating matters is the reality that because of campaign finance and other considerations, candidates will usually suspend rather than withdraw.

The ghost ship phenomenon does give researchers like my friend and colleague Paul Gronke data on when people cast ballots – especially those who cast them very early – but that’s cold comfort to voters whose first choice is no longer “on board.”

This issue is likely to recur often as the primary season continues – keep an eye out for more ghost ships … and staaaaaaaaaaaay tuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuned …. [Sorry. Couldn’t resist.]