Why Doesn’t Romney Appear as “Willard” on the Ballot?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 5 2012 2:28 PM

Where’s Willard?

Why doesn’t Mitt Romney have to use his legal name on the ballot?

A U.S. citizen's 2012 United States presidential election absentee ballot shows the names of candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
A U.S. citizen's 2012 United States presidential election absentee ballot shows the names of candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Early voters have noticed that, on most state ballots, Gov. Romney appears as “Mitt Romney,” even though Willard is his legal first name. One Explainer reader wants to know how much control candidates have over their ballot listings. Could Romney appear as “Job Creator” Romney, or President Obama as Barack “Hope” Obama?

No. When it comes to the presidential election, voters are technically voting for a political party’s slate of electors, not the candidates themselves, so states allow the parties broad discretion in how names appear. Middle names and nicknames are acceptable, and Mitt Romney isn’t the only candidate who has tweaked his legal name. On the current Vermont ballot, the presidential candidate from the Justice Party appears as “Ross ‘Rocky’ C. Anderson.” There are limitations, however. Through statute, regulation, or precedent, most states bar candidates for any office from using their names to sloganeer on the ballot. Virginia, for example, prohibited Gail Parker from appearing as “Gail ‘For Rail’ Parker.” (Massachusetts and a few other states avoid this problem altogether by listing only the last names of presidential candidates.) States usually have stricter rules for down-ballot candidates, requiring some form of the legal first, middle, and last name. Most states allow nicknames to appear in quotation marks, but there is a limit on the total number of characters.

Some states allow independent candidates to make a political point in the space allocated for party name. Vermonters have the option to send Laurel LaFramboise of the VoteKISS party or Cris Ericson of the United States Marijuana Party to the U.S. Senate this year. (Ericson is also running for governor this year, and won 0.75 percent of the vote in 2010.) There are limitations here as well, though. In 2010, independent Milwaukee Assembly candidate Ieshuh Griffin asked for the phrase “NOT the whiteman’s bitch” to appear below her name on the ballot. The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board rejected the request.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks reader Ben Talsma for asking the question.

Brian Palmer is Slate's chief explainer. He also writes How and Why and Ecologic for the Washington Post. Email him at explainerbrian@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.