We should be able to vote "none of the above"
Published: Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 23:09
If you’ve watched TV, been online without an ad blocker, or read a newspaper lately, you’ve probably noticed that it’s campaign season. As it happens every few years, we’re barraged by a nearly constant stream of advertisements either for a candidate, or as appears to be more common nowadays, against a candidate. Obama, Romney, and the countless Super PACs and other organizations aligned with them seem to be focused on tearing down the opponent, rather than building their own candidate up.
People are frustrated by this. The two major candidates don’t appeal to a large number of Americans, because they disagree with their policies or the negative way they’re running their campaigns. This contributes to the notoriously poor voter turnout in the United States. The 2008 election had the highest turnout in decades, and that was with only 56.8% of the voting-age population showing up at the polls. Some will claim that people not voting is evidence that they are happy with the status quo, but in a recent poll of unlikely voters by Suffolk University, less than a third said the two major parties do a good job representing Americans’ views. It’s safe to say that a majority of people stay home because they don’t like their options, not because they think both candidates will do an equally fine job.
One way to increase voter turnout would be to include “none of the above” as an option on Connecticut ballots. This ballot option would serve as a catch-all for voters who are not pleased with any of the candidates, and would help demonstrate just how many citizens are willing to vote if they like one of their choices. In the long run, this option may drive politicians to reach out more to independent voters, rather than their highly partisan bases that will vote for them no matter what. It may also lead to less negative political campaigns, as high negativity may drive voters to select “none of the above” rather than switch from one candidate to another.
This isn’t exactly a new idea. There are already multiple countries that include a “none of the above” option on their ballots, including Greece, Spain, Colombia, Ukraine, and Bangladesh. The state of Nevada began including “none of the above” as an option in 1978, with the reasoning that voters also have the right to voice their disapproval of all the candidates. However, a feature of Nevada’s law was that “none of the above” could not win an election. Even if the option received the most votes (which had never happened in a general election but had happened in a few primaries), the “real” candidate with the most votes would be declared the winner. This provision led U.S. District Judge Robert Jones to strike down the option just a few weeks ago, on the grounds that the option disenfranchised voters by providing them an option that could never win.
If Connecticut were to adopt a “none of the above” option, it would need to be able to win. This begs the question, what would happen if it did? Fortunately, other countries have already worked this out. If “none of the above” were to win, then no candidate would take the office, and the nominations window would be re-opened. New candidates would have the opportunity to get on the ballot (old candidates would be allowed to re-apply as well), and a special election would be held. We already have this infrastructure in place in Connecticut – there were many special elections for state representatives and state senators in 2010, when some Democratic elected officials resigned their posts to serve in Governor Malloy’s administration.
Of course, this would not solve all of the problems with our democracy. There are a lot of other policies that would help increase turnout and make our politicians more accurately reflect the public’s views – making Election Day a state holiday, allowing Election Day voter registration and implementing instant runoff voting, to name a few. But allowing citizens to vote “none of the above” is a step in the right direction.