A None of the Above (NOTA) line on the ballot — is a proper and long overdue expansion of voting choice at a time when citizens are staying away from the polls in droves because of their disgust, distrust, despair and disillusionment with tweedledum–tweedledee politics.
Presently, from forty to eighty percent of eligible voters, depending on the election, stay home and are labeled apathetic. Refusing to participate, they do not count and have little impact on who gets on to future ballots and how they behave when elected.
NOTA makes voters who wish to register a “no-confidence” vote, who wish to withhold their consent, count.
A binding NOTA would work this way: candidates would have to be concerned about both their opponents (if there are any at all, or if there are any who are competitive) and the NOTA line. For if NOTA obtains either a plurality or a majority of the votes cast, the election for that post would be cancelled or invalidated, along with the dismissal of the candidates, and a new election would be called.
New candidates would have to be nominated (the NOTA-defeated ones could not rerun in the new election) and voting day could be 30 to 45 days later. A NOTA procedure could be enacted by legislation or constitutional amendment at the state level. Because of federal constitutional requirement re the electoral college etc., a state-passed NOTA could not reach Presidential elections. But it could apply to any Congressional or state or local offices that is desired.
Nevada has had a non-binding NOTA since 1976. Even so, NOTA has come in first in four party primary elections, twice in a Congressional primary and twice for state offices. A binding NOTA, I believe, would pass handily in the nearly two dozen states that have the initiative and referendum statewide.
Arguments about the cost of a second election pale compared with the lack of substantive choices for quality candidates and “politics as usual” run by cash-register politicians. Nothing is more costly than the control of nominations and elections by what Thomas Jefferson called “the monied interests.”
Common Cause says that only 10% or less of House Congressional elections are competitive, meaning that either there is no major party opponent to the incumbent or that the opponent is grossly underfinanced. In Connecticut for example, one need only look at the First and Sixth Congressional Districts for examples of what have become one-party districts without competition.
Certainly, NOTA is not a panacea for the decline in representative democracy. Prudent campaign finance reform, limited terms (12 years and out), easier ballot access for candidates, and voter registration reform can be part of the mix of needed changes.
But the NOTA ability to say NO is also the ability to say YES to better quality candidates and electoral competitions that are not so heavily decided by money and the advantages of incumbency.
Other non-candidate ballot issues, such as local referenda issues are “yes-no” voter decisions, as some local officials have found out repeatedly in trying to pass budget or bond issues. Yet when it comes to candidates, voters are left with the “least of the undesirables” or stay home options.
To start a NOTA movement in your state, write to both incumbents and challengers for their written position on the NOTA proposal and mobilize your neighbors to secure enactment either by referenda, where it is almost a sure winner, or by legislation, which the politicians will make more difficult.
You can start a drive for NOTA at the local government level, which should be easier, and then build up to the state-wide office level.
For more information, write to Gary Ruskin, P. 0. Box 19446, Washington, DC 20036.