Politics & Policy

A Case for Putting ‘None of the Above’ on the Ballot

(Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Even though both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are viewed negatively by six out of ten voters, many are resigning themselves to that choice.  “It’s not like ‘none of the above’ is a potential option,” GOP Texas governor Greg Abbott said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this week.  

Nevada senator Dean Heller, also a Republican, disagrees. “I vehemently oppose our nominee and some of the comments and issues he brought up during the campaign,” he told reporters this month. “What I’m committing to is voting against Hillary Clinton.” He pointed out that voters in Nevada actually do have the option of voting for “none of the above.” 

Indeed, the Silver State has had a non-binding None of the Above option on its ballot since 1976. In its first year, that entrant “won” a GOP congressional primary. Many Nevada voters would like NOTA expanded so that if it came in first, the election would be declared invalid and a new election would be quickly called in which none of the candidates who lost to NOTA would be eligible to run again.

Fox News reported on a NOTA national-level proposal Tuesday night: 

A group of donors and political insiders is hatching a plan to stop Trump — not at the convention but in the general election. The idea is to launch a “none of the above” campaign in a handful of states where neither Trump nor Hillary did particularly well. . . . The strategy is to deny both Trump and Clinton the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, which would mean the House of Representatives would choose the next president. The last time that happened was in 1825, when John Quincy Adams was elected president. 

Randy Evans, the chairman of the Republican National Lawyers Association, is not part of any anti-Trump effort. But he told Fox: “When I looked at the deadlines for the states and then at the polling data in terms of the number of people who are not satisfied with either of the nominees, I realized this is not a cockamamie plan. It could actually work if it had the right amount of funding.”

RELATED: Trump or Clinton: A Hobson’s Choice?

The problem the Never Trump people have is that money and commitment follows a leader, not a vacuum. Gary Johnson was a successful two-term governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003. He is likely to be the Libertarian nominee this year and on the ballot in all 50 states. But his pro-marijuana-legalization views and non-interventionist foreign policies have scared away top donors. Former Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn has just told Never Trump leaders that he thought the idea of a third candidate was sound, but he wasn’t the man to do it. 

#share#Certainly the appetite for a choice other than “the evil of two lessers” is there. A new poll taken by the polling firm Data Targeting found that 58 percent of people are dissatisfied with the candidates currently in the race. A total of 55 percent (including a stunning 91 percent of those younger than 30) would favor having an independent candidate on the November ballot. In a ballot test against Trump and Hillary, an unknown independent would receive 21 percent of the vote (Trump would win 34 percent, and Hillary would win 31 percent). In the West and in New England, an independent would win between 28 percent and 30 percent of the vote.  

RELATED: After Eight Years of Obama, America Needs Someone Better than Trump or Clinton

Of course, even a credible independent running with adequate resources would face questions of unfamiliarity and experience and would inevitably turn off some voters in the course of a campaign. That’s why, with the exception of Ross Perot in 1992, independents have tended to see their support fall rather than build (think George Wallace in 1968 and John Anderson in 1980). In addition, any candidate starting this late would probably fail to get on such crucial state ballots as Texas and North Carolina.

It is time to seriously discuss adding a real None of the Above option on state ballots.

So it looks as if people who view the prospect of voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton the same way Dracula looks at a crucifix will have limited options. The only chance for something different will come if enough Trump delegates abstain from voting, in the event he refuses to turn over his tax returns, to deny him a first-ballot nomination; the other possibility for upheaval would be an FBI report on Hillary’s e-mail scandal.  

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a lesson from this year’s crash course in voters’ fear and loathing of the two presumptive major-party nominees. It is time to seriously discuss adding a real None of the Above option on state ballots. There are many races where it would have been useful: The 1990s Louisiana election between the corrupt Edwin Edwards and the former KKK leader David Duke comes to mind. A hypothetical poll at the time showed NOTA would have beaten both candidates. 

#related#NOTA would be far more effective than campaign-finance reform in reducing the overwhelming advantages of incumbency. In many races, second-rate incumbents win by beating third-rate or underfunded challengers. With NOTA, a fitting office holder could lose an election and give new candidates a chance even in a hopelessly gerrymandered district.

And if NOTA came close to winning, even the most entrenched incumbents might be forced to reconsider their positions and inject some needed humility into their thinking. Adding NOTA to the ballot might also improve the nation’s abysmal voter turnout. NOTA might even discourage highly negative campaigning, because candidates would be running for the approval of voters, not just to offend fewer people than their opponents do. When confronted with the option of bad versus worse, NOTA would allow people to say, “Give me a better choice.” Isn’t that one of the things that America’s democracy should be about? 

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