It’s been an ugly election. The Republicans desperately deserved to lose. Far from supporting limited government, the GOP has become a party of big spenders and intrusive social meddlers. Whatever one thinks of the decision to go to war in Iraq, the administration has bungled the conflict at almost every point.
But the Democrats certainly didn’t deserve to win. They remain bigger spenders and more intrusive social meddlers. And most of the Democratic leaders continue to say that they were right in voting for war, while offering no intelligent exit strategy.
Unfortunately, on Election Day there was no way to punish the Republicans without rewarding the Democrats. A GOP regular who voted Democratic would have helped the undeserving Dems win. Even abstention effectively aided the other side. (Obviously the reverse also was true. A sensible Democrat who abhors what his party has become, but had little desire to support GOP hacks and shills, had no good option either.)
There was an easy solution, however. The Turkey Ballot.
Every election should include a “none of the above” option along with the names of the candidates. (Ballot access also should be liberalized to allow more alternative voices, but that is a separate issue.) A vote for NOTA would punish all candidates simultaneously.
By increasing options for voters, NOTA almost certainly would increase voter turnout. The cynical, burned-out, frustrated, and angry would have a reason to go to the polls. Even if a citizen disliked all of the candidates — especially if a citizen disliked all of the candidate — he would feel good about voting.
Moreover, any significant vote for NOTA would embarrass establishment contenders. In most races someone probably would still triumph, but many officials likely would take office with but a plurality of the vote, tarnishing their credibility and image. A large number of NOTA votes would be far more effective than a low voter turnout in registering discontent with the poor choices routinely provided by the major parties.
NOTA would prove most beneficial, however, if a majority or plurality of voters chose it. Then no candidate would be elected.
A new election would have to be held. Two or more candidates would have suffered the ultimate humiliation — voters preferred “no one” to them. A losing candidate with more chutzpah than common sense could run again, but being voted a turkey by one’s neighbors would have a sobering effect on all but the most egotistical politician.
Successive humiliations inflicted by the electorate might drive some of the worst electoral dregs out of politics altogether. Today second-rate candidates win by beating third-rate opponents. With NOTA, both the second- and third-raters would lose.
Further, NOTA would encourage political parties to select better candidates. Even “safe” districts would no longer be safe, since loyal Republicans or Democrats could reject incompetent, corrupt, or brainless candidates from their own party without electing someone from the opposition.
Moreover, repeated rejections would diminish the “brand” value of a party. Losses thus would be felt well beyond a local district or one state. Party regulars would have an incentive to look beyond loyalists who had “paid their dues.”
Creating a NOTA would not be without complications. More elections would have to be held. Repeated NOTA victories could leave an office temporarily unfilled.
So long as primaries were held well in advance of the general election, however, successive NOTA victories would not delay the general election. In the unlikely event that no candidate was approved after multiple primaries, the general election could feature whatever other contenders had won their respective party primaries.
If NOTA won in a general election, a new vote would be expeditiously scheduled, which would not delay the swearing in or inauguration of the winner. If citizens said no in several successive ballots, legislative seats could be left vacant while executive positions, such as governorships, could remain filled by the outgoing official.
The logistics for a presidential race would be more complicated. In primaries a NOTA victory would yield no delegates, denying support for all contenders and making it more difficult for any candidate to amass a majority to win the nomination. Or NOTA could be backed by a slate of uncommitted delegates — who were legally barred from voting for any candidate who was on the ballot and came in behind NOTA.
As for the general election, a triumph by NOTA should result in a new election by late-December or early January, negating any need to delay the new president’s inauguration. America’s endless presidential electoral season is an international anomaly; parliamentary systems like Great Britain measure their campaign seasons in weeks.
Should NOTA triumph again, a new election should be scheduled within two months and the incumbent would remain in office until his successor was elected. Or, alternatively, the election could be left up to the House of Representatives, should the prospect of such a delay seem unthinkable.
Obviously, the downside of NOTA is increased political instability. However, such instability is a way of life with parliamentary systems. Most also utilize short campaign seasons and short transitions between governments. In Britain, the new prime minister takes over immediately: indeed, the family barely has time to pack before movers are carting away the ousted prime minister’s belongings.
Anyway, the benefits of such a system exceed the costs. Politics today is broken. Neither major party is meeting America’s needs. NOTA would allow voters to punish all the leading contenders if the latter were deemed to be inadequate.
NOTA also would help reverse popular cynicism, since citizens again would have a real choice come election time. No more choosing between two evils, where the best one can say is that one candidate isn’t quite as bad as another.
On Election Day neither party was offering the American people thoughtful and principled leadership. NOTA would allow us to tell both Republicans and Democrats to try again until they get it right.
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