"None of the Above"
A Good Idea

By Tony Miller
Acting Secretary of State

The career politicians hate it. It must be a good idea. It's
called "None of the Above"...a plan to provide a very powerful option for
those who don't care for any of the candidates for an office on the
ballot. And if "None of the Above" wins a majority of the
votes cast for that office? New candidates for that office? New
candidates, new election.

The idea isn't new. Nevada has been doing a variation of it since
1976. Californians already have this choice essentially when voting for
appellate court justice. Political reformers and commentators have been
talking about it for decades. It hasn't made it very far because
career politicians have been less than enthused about it. But the people
love it.

The arguments in favor of the "None of the Above" option are many.
Giving people another choice would give them a reason to go to the polls
even though they don't like any of the candidates listed on the ballot
for an office. People turned off would still turn out to register their
protest. Voter participation would increase.

Giving people the "None of the Above" choice would discourage the
mud slinging that characterizes so many campaigns. Voters could easily
opt for the "plague on both your houses approach. And they would. Tired
of entrenched incumbents unbeatable because of mighty war chests and high
name identification which scare off credible opponents: Let "None of
the Above" have a shot at it. At the very least it will make the
incumbents more responsive for fear of losing to "None of the Above."

Are there downsides? Opponents point to possible costs. Clearly,
if "None of the Above" wins, there might be the cost of an additional
election. Actually, the Nevada experience indicates that the need to
hold another election would be very rare. And when that need occurred,
it would be money well spent if it meant that the people could have a
real choice among candidates on the ballot.

Opponents argue that giving voters an easy out will discourage them
from focusing on candidates who are on the ballot. Let's not sell the
voters short. Voters are discriminating. They will look at the
candidates and are apt to choose among them but they shouldn't have to
hold their noses to do so. When "None of the Above" is the only logical
choice, voters should have it available to them.

Is "None of the Above" a panacea to increasing participation, ending
negative campaigning and making incumbents more responsive? Of course
not, but it may be a step in the right direction. I've asked the
Legislature for authority to place "None of the Above" as an option
for voters on the ballot. The Legislature needs to hear from those who
support this proposal.


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