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Copping out

This morning, I read news that Massachusetts is considering a major change to how they run their elections. Some lawmakers want to put a final line on each ballot race for "None Of The Above." And if None wins, there has to be a new election.

The sole exception would be for presidential races, where the state simply can''t enforce such a move.

I think this is a truly stupid idea.

My first impulse was to blame this on Massachusetts Democrats. Massachusetts is the bluest of the blue states -- they have such a powerful lock on the state that their smallest element of control is in the legislature, where they only hold about 85% of the seats. Consequently, blaming the Democrats for anything bad about the state is pretty much a given.

But then I thought about it some more, and realized that while that was the easiest jump to make, it wasn't necessarily so. People being fed up with their elected officials and wannabes is not a partisan issue, but more a reflection of general disgust that crosses party lines. For those who care about such things, look at the approval ratings for Bush and Congress -- sometimes it seems they're racing for the bottom. And "none of the above" already scores high on presidential candidate polls. And I often find myself agreeing.

But why would I oppose this plan?

It's simple. We are a democracy. (Well, technically, a Constitutional democratic republic, but for this argument, that's close enough for jazz.) And in a democracy, the people tend to get the government they deserve.

There are very few legal and technical barriers preventing people from running for office. Hell, I could run for president; I meet all the legal requirements. I could also run for almost any other office I chose.

There are a lot of informal barriers out there, involving money and organizational strength and whatnot, but they are byblows of the legal and constitutional structures, not innate to the system. And if enough people dislike them enough, they can get around them.

That is the crux of the situation. Everyone wants to complain about the system, but nobody is upset enough to actually work for a change.

A perfect example is the electoral college system. For over 200 years we've lived with a system that allows a candidate who might not win a majority of the popular vote to become president. In fact, the candidate who does win a majority can still lose. But no one has put forth a serious effort to change the system. Instead, every few years we get a whole lot of people bitching about it, and a couple of states decide to screw around with how they handle their electoral votes (quite possibly violating the Constitution in the process), but there simply hasn't been enough outrage to prompt what really needs to be done to change it -- an amendment to the Constitution.

Likewise, this "None Of The Above" move is an empty gesture. It's political masturbation -- it makes people feel good for a little while without addressing the source of the situation.

Don't like the crop of candidates? Run yourself, or find someone you do like and get them to run. Or leave that line blank. Don't allow people to just out of hand petulantly reject all of them and demand a fresh slate -- which could very well get rejected as well, leading to an endless series of fruitless elections.

And in the meantime, who would govern? Would the current crop of elected officials simply stay in office, the ultimate "lame ducks" who could act with utter impunity of having to face the voters' wrath? The unelected bureaucracy? Nobody?

(Then again, this would pretty much guarantee government inaction for some time, and that has its own merits. But I digress...)

Democracy is a blessing, but one that comes with strings. And one of those is responsibility -- we have to live with the consequences of our choices. The "None Of The Above" move is a move towards shirking responsibility, towards finding scapegoats and evading every citizen's public duty to choose our government.

We already have the power to change things. We are just too lazy or not fed up enough to exercise that power. This move isn't about changing anything, but placating the whiners.

It needs to die. And it needs to die in a suitably horrific and public manner, as an example for those who would seek such transparent ploys instead of seeking real solutions.


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Comments (26)

JT, I think the electoral c... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

JT, I think the electoral college is something that is better to keep then to get rid of. If we got rid of this, and lived by just the popular vote, the only states that would get their issues addressed by the candidates are the over populated states like California, New York. Florida, Texas, etc. Alaska and Wyoming might as well forget about it. There will truly be a "fly by" segment of our country.

If total votes and population are important, maybe we should base our senators on how populace their state is compared to others. Some states may be 4 senators and others only 1.

This is what happens when you start messing with the system. Al Gore even knew he had to win a specific state to win the presedency. He already knew he had the popular vote. Los Angelas, Chicago and New York City will always go demo. ww

Jay,Great article.... (Below threshold)
Allen:

Jay,

Great article.

Mass is like breckBoy, the ... (Below threshold)
Gianni:

Mass is like breckBoy, the gift that just keeps on giving ridiculous stories after ridiculous ideas.

Hows that CapeCod windfarm coming along the the the treehugger globalwarming drunkenIrish hypocrite crowd?

Being IN the peoples progre... (Below threshold)
Knightbrigade:

Being IN the peoples progressive republic of mASS., this was floated out from committee(yes they actually held committee meetings on this crap), but it will never see the light of day.

This was talked about for image and to justify their existence.

If by some small chance it ever became law, mASS. would be the state of a perpetual election. Even though the current crop of hacks run unopposed or are re-elected vs inferior competition, NON-OF-THE-ABOVE would receive 65-75% of the votes EVERY TIME.

lmao....Hell, maybe instead of (Senator Teddy Gasbag), MA. could have (Senator None of the Above.) sounds good to me......

Wow. I can't believe Massa... (Below threshold)
Jay:

Wow. I can't believe Massachusetts is actually considering this. It's long been a desire among libertarians to have NOTA on ballots to shake things up and allow people to express what they'd really prefer at times. Which are likely to be fewer than you'd expect, considering this is the state the re-elected Kennedy in 1970, 1976, 1982, and ad nauseum.

I am shocked, shocked I say, that you actually wrote a post opposing it. Who are you and what have you done with the real Jay Tea?

Remember, it's not always bad, wrong, or low hanging bash fruit just because it happens in Massachusetts.

Jay, old chum, I agree with... (Below threshold)

Jay, old chum, I agree with you in principle. But the practical application of NOTA would be to bring about -- as Knightbrigade says, "perpetual elections," even worse than we have now.

As I said, people get the government they deserve. NOTA is just a way of trying to dodge that logical consequence.

J.

I'd like to offer two comme... (Below threshold)
jim2:

I'd like to offer two comments.

1) There are clear democratic or parliamentary elements behind invalidating an election in which "NOTA" wins. One is the concept of quorum, with the electorate here making a formal and written declaration that there is no suitable candidate. (as opposed to abstaining)

2) The Electoral College is just another example where the US deliberately does NOT allow a narrow popular majority to dominate others. Another is called the US Senate, in which low population States have the same political power as high population States (Wyoming has ~500K and CA has about 36M). The Founders seem to have felt that any situation where 51% could rule the rest was a likely cause for secession and chaos (consider Lebanon).

On the off chance this migh... (Below threshold)
Robert the Original:

On the off chance this might pass, I have taken steps this morning to change my name to "None of the above."

Thinking that establishing residence and credibility might be my biggest problem, I attended a rally with trans-gendered deaf mutes seeking to include Cuba in the G8 and convert the capital building into a preserve for mink.

I hung a sign from my neck promising to raise all taxes and lose all wars. So I now am pleased to report that I am qualified for even the highest of offices.

As one who finds himself ch... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

As one who finds himself choosing the lesser of 2 evils almost every time I vote, I wholeheartedly support the "none of the above" option.

Right now our electoral system is all about money and who has the most. You have to be rich to run for office- it's that simple. That is the problem that needs to be fixed.

Also the founding fathers were very wise to devise the electoral college (not that we currently use it in its original form, but it still works as well). It protects the interests of non-city people and minorities. Without it, it would be even easier to buy an election. The people who complain about it and want to see it done away with are either idiots or those who simply want only the wealthy to have political power in this country.

If you want to fix our electoral system you have to think of ways of taking money and wealth out of the equasion. Doing away with the electoral college would have the opposite effect, but adding "none of the above" would be a slight move in the right direction.

So Jay Tea, you have it ass backwards on both.

Good points all, JayTea<... (Below threshold)

Good points all, JayTea. I have one thing to add to the following excerpt:

We already have the power to change things. We are just too lazy or not fed up enough to exercise that power. This move isn't about changing anything, but placating the whiners.

It also gives the "too lazy to read up on the candidates and make a suitable choice" crowd a chance to 'opt out', this time at the ballot bax. If people go in there thinking they don't really have to make a choice, why hold an election in the first place? I can see election chaos being the only result of such a measure.

I'm not so sure that this w... (Below threshold)
kevino:

I'm not so sure that this will create "perpetual elections". I know of any people who reside in the People's Republic of Massachusetts who would like to get rid of their state representative or state senator, but they won't do it if it means voting for a Republican. The Democratic political machine will support their favorite boy or girl, they sail through the primary unopposed or burying the opposition, and the voters who won't vote for a Republican see little or no choice. If they had NOTA, they can reject the status quo and demand someone new (i.e. a different Democrat).

Now, granted, if the machine gets to pick the replacement, that may not be much better, but anything is better than sending the same old idiots back to the People's Committee. If there was a run-off, or better still, if the second-place person in the primary was chosen, the machine gets shutout completely, and a relative unknown Democrat could with without selling his soul to the Democratic Party power-brokers.

If it did set up "perpetual elections", what is the worse thing that would happen? Probably the same person gets to stay in power. Big deal: without NOTA that's probably what would happen anyway. Better would be to leave the seat open. Fewer politicians mean fewer idiots writing new laws and raising taxes. In the best of all possible worlds, there won't be enough of them for a quorum count, and the entire legislature would shutdown!

This is why I agree with other comments in the string: this is phony proposal. The Democratic Party will never approve of this because they might give up too much power.

Kind of fun to think about, though.

JayTea, I also disagree wit... (Below threshold)
_Mike_:

JayTea, I also disagree with your apparent assertion that the Electoral College system needs to be changed. Although it's been eroded over the years, we are a Republic. Those who complain about the Electoral College system seem not to grasp the important distinction and fancy themselves as having found a flaw that the Founding Fathers made.

One of the benefits of a Republic is that it places the power closer to the people who are affected by it.. which I believe makes government more responsive to the people. Further, for a nation to become a totalitarian state, power must first become concentrated within a small body. When the power is more distributed, such as it is with a republic, it acts as a impediment to politicians totalitarian tendencies.

I completely support NOTA i... (Below threshold)
dc64:

I completely support NOTA if implemented correctly, as they have in Australia. The purpose of NOTA is to let common voters express their dissatisfaction with the candidates put forth by the parties. What a wonderful new element of control this would give to voters in our democracy! Frankly, there have numerous elections where I have been unhappy with the candidates offered.

And to your point "There are very few legal and technical barriers preventing people from running for office" very few independent or 3rd party candidates are every elected in this country. The Dems and GOP even conspired with the MSM to lock 3rd party candidates out of the presidential debates after Ross Perot gave such a strong showing.

I googled a bit and found this interesting page:

http://nota.org/aboutvnota.htm

I like this reasoning:

all legitimate consent requires the ability to withhold consent; "None of the Above" gives the voter the ballot option to withhold consent from an election to office, just as voters can cast a "No" vote on a ballot question.

Indeed, the practical conse... (Below threshold)
Jay:

Indeed, the practical consequences would have to be considered and at the very least included in any law to make it so. Perhaps a good compromise would be a non-binding NOTA and requirement that the results of same be made public. Thus if you have to vote for Ross, Chandler or Joe, you can vote for the least bad, but at least indicate your distaste that Chandler was the best option.

It's not something to adopt whimsically, as it has consequences. If NOTA wins, what happens when the current term expires? What are the arrangements for holding another election? Are there positions that can be left vacant for a term or for a time? Are there others that must be filled or have the current occupant stay as a placeholder? Do we restrict people who were beaten by NOTA from running again? Have a failsafe option if NOTA wins repeatedly?

Fascinating. On my part the fascination is fueled in part by the current Middleboro casino thing. The Wampanoags are politely offering the town massive money to make improvements and benefit from having the casino there. If I understand right, they don't have to do anything but build anything they want on their land and thumb their noses at the town.

The selectmen wanted to approve it. A small yet vocal group opposed forced a town meeting, because it's stupid to allow people we elect to represent us to make decisions for us; it's a democracy dammit and our representaives don't have the right to make decisions for us. So they're holding a town meeting at which 14,000 registered voters are expected to show up! Obviously not the typical turnout, or town meetings would be impossible as they would all cost $125,000 and be mob scenes. This is why some larger towns with selectmen resort to a town meeting member system, where individuals around the town are elected to - wait for it - represent and vote on behalf of the ones whose presence at a town meeting would be hopeless impractical.

But I digress.

The problem with not being ... (Below threshold)

The problem with not being able to express your dissatisfaction with the current candidates by voting NOTA is that the only other option is to vote for the lesser of two evils. In being forced to vote for one or the other, the winning candidate sees his election as a de-facto positive endorsement of his or her policies - its' never translated to meaning that he's "just not quite as bad" as the one who lost.

Oyster - an excellent point... (Below threshold)
dc64:

Oyster - an excellent point.

"...the only other optio... (Below threshold)

"...the only other option is to vote for the lesser of two evils."

Well, maybe not the only other option, but I think we'd be surprised to find how many times we vote for someone just to vote against the other guy.

NOTA would probably work if... (Below threshold)
Matt:

NOTA would probably work if implemented very carefully. If it invalidated an election the government/official in place would maintain in a caretaker role, with out authority to enact new legislation or executive orders etc, until a proper representative is elected and in place. It would provide a means of citizens, at least at the local level, to have a form of no confidence vote in the government.

As for people being to lazy to decide on a candidate or issue, yes that is possible, but those people exist now, and just don't go and vote, or vote stupidly (straight ticket, or stupid writ-ins etc). I think there are many less "informed" voters than we care to acknowledge.

Many people that are fed up with the current politicians don't see a viable way for them to change things. A fed up democrat or republican, even a decent size group, can seldom make serious inrodes. We have seen in the last republican debacle that candidates that could have made a difference and could have won, that were backed by locals, were froze out by the national machine. Same for democrats. That generally leaves having to run as indepenents, or with some currently non-viable party.

I'd say give NOTA a chance, what can it do, screw up MASS?

While the concerns are vali... (Below threshold)
Roger Martin:

While the concerns are valid, allowing that choice does serve one important purpose: it prevents unscrupulous politicians from claiming that un unmarked ballot choice means that the voter would have voted for them, and prevents claims of voter fraud. Perhaps a better title for the line would be "this selection intentionally left blank." That wouldn't force new elections but would leave it clear that the voter deliberately chose not to vote in that area.

JT,You said it was... (Below threshold)

JT,

You said it was wrong to blame this moronic legislation on the dems of Mass. and then follow that claim up with NO supporting evidence.(If you say that it -the proposed law- is a reflection of the people,uh,we are talking about Masseshitsblue right ?)

re: The Electoral College. Two words: President Algore

Refering to US as a democracy because it's "close enough for jazz" ? Uh, I believe they're holding your hat and coat over at BlueWiz.(They might want to have an M.D. check that out by the way.)

Here's the moral of the story: Don't even DRIVE through,or God help you,run for office in, Masseshitsblue if you know what's good for you.(I was borne there,so this comes from not a little authority.)

GO SOX!

JayTea,I think it ... (Below threshold)
J.R.:

JayTea,

I think it would be enlightening to hear your thoughts about the electoral college. While it seems in this post you are condemning it, you don't come outright and say it is bad for the country. I'd be interested in hearing your full thoughts because I would have pegged you to be a proponent of it.

As far as NOTA goes. I do believe it to be a bad idea and that perpetual elections would surely be a likely result. However, it would be nice to cast a vote that shows you do not agree with either candidate.

I'd personally rather see t... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

I'd personally rather see the electoral college abandoned and let popular vote rule. There are those who worry that it would give bigger states too much clout -- even though now, small states have up to three times the clout they properly deserve -- but I would argue that if popular vote mattered, EVERY state and every voter in those states would matter. Living in Indiana, we never see presidential candidates because we always vote Republican. As a Democrat, my vote simply doesn't exist and that's not right. If we had popular elections, my vote would count just as much as the Republicans, and candidates would have to work for every vote.

An alternative would be to cast electoral votes by congressional district rather than winner-take-all. The overall winner of the state would get the two remaining votes.

I'm also curious if those w... (Below threshold)
_Mike_:

I'm also curious if those who are advocating disassembling the Electoral College are aware that there is no Constitutional right to vote for President....

There IS a serious effort g... (Below threshold)
Lars:

There IS a serious effort going on to change the Electoral College and move to a national popular vote. There is an organization called National Popular Vote (www.nationalpopularvote.com) and they are pushing state legislation in 43 states to move to a direct popular vote for President. I read about them in a NY Times editorial.

A constitutional amendment, which would be blocked by states like Ohio and Florida that benefit from their current "battleground" status, is not needed. The legislation has already become law in Maryland and has passed legislative houses in 10 other states. It is a real effort targeted at implementing a national popular vote for the 2012 election.

For those of you who think ... (Below threshold)
kbiel:

For those of you who think NOTA is worth trying, think about this: The problem with the election process isn't that there are no good candidates, but that there is too much apathy. If more voters would participate in the primaries and off-year elections, we would have a better crop of candidates and elected officials. Having a NOTA option would just exacerbate the issue as it would allow those who were too lazy to vote in the primaries to invalidate the primary results.

Likewise, this "None Of ... (Below threshold)
Arthur:

Likewise, this "None Of The Above" move is an empty gesture.

One of the advanteges to having 50 states is that we can try an experiment* in one of them to see how it works out. So I'll ask Mass. to take one for the team and try a get a law passed to put "none of the above" on the ballot.

In regards to your specific objections (like, who would govern if "none" won) that detail would have to be part of the law.

Others have pointed out that pepetual elections would be a likely result. Ok, how about having NOTA on the ballot and if it won it WOULDN'T force a new election. Just a shorter term for the winner.

* we saw how "hillary care" would have worked when Tenn. implemented it. Ouch. And we saw Calif. lead the way with the tax revolt in the 1970s with prop 13. so far, so good.




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