Tuesday, August 03, 2010

None of the Above

In Sunday's Las Vegas Sun, Anjeanette Damon suggests that "None of the Above" might be the favored option of Nevada voters faced with the choice of Harry Reid and Sharron Angle on the ballot this November.

Damon explains:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 55 percent unfavorable rating is matched by the 56 percent unfavorable rating of his GOP rival, Sharron Angle.

The most popular ballot option might not be for a person at all. “None of these candidates” is expected to draw a significant portion of the vote in November because of the candidates’ unpopularity and the pessimistic mood of the electorate.

More than merely a gauge of Nevada’s ennui, “none of the above” could determine the outcome of the election and will almost guarantee that the Senate race victor emerges with less than 50 percent of the vote.
Citing UNLV political scientist David Damore's recent study of the "NOTA" phenomenon, Damon goes on to note how it plays into other elections:
Nevada is the only state to allow voters a none-of-the-above option in statewide races. The Legislature instituted it in 1975 amid the mistrust of government brought on by the Watergate scandal.

In researching its effect, Damore found voters rely on it more in primary elections, nonpartisan races and down-ticket races. Generally, the less information a voter has about the candidates in a given race, the more that voter is inclined to vote none of the above. It can draw from 15 percent to 18 percent in statewide judicial races, for example.

However, in high-profile, hotly contested races, such as Nevada’s U.S. Senate contest, the none-of-the-above option is a way for the electorate to register a protest vote. The draw in these races is smaller, perhaps 1.5 percent to 3 percent, depending on how unpopular the two major candidates are.
Seeing the article this week reminded me of a letter to the editor I sent to the Christian Science Monitor about 18 years ago. It was published on June 19, 1992, under the headline, "The 'None of the Above' Option":
The Opinion page article "Vote `No and `Yes' to Democracy," June 12, on voter dissatisfaction and the possibility of adding "None of the Above" (NOTA) to United States election ballots, mentions that variants of this choice have been used in Eastern Europe. It is also used in Nevada, where it is nonbinding, and regularly in nongovernment elections, where it often is binding.

The Libertarian Party includes NOTA on ballots for party elections and its platform has long called for NOTA's inclusion on US federal, state, and local election ballots. In the party context, in any election in which NOTA wins, that office goes unfilled and unfunded until the next scheduled election.

Beyond serving as a vent for "throw-all-the-bums-out" steam, NOTA also provides a mechanism for voters to indicate their belief that an office itself - not just the politician who holds it or wants it - is unnecessary and should be eliminated.

Unfortunately, incumbent legislators know the dangers NOTA poses for their comfortable existence. It will take a strong grass-roots effort to get career politicians to approve laws that allow voters authentic choices in every election.

Richard Sincere Jr., Arlington, Va., Chairman, Libertarian Party of Virginia
Although I was registered to vote in Nevada for nine years (1979-88), I never exercised the NOTA option. I don't think I knew it existed and in those (personally pre-political) days I was not paying close attention. I wish I knew more details its origin so I could pursue getting it adopted into Virginia's election code.
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