It’s been clear to me for decades that when Americans vote in elections, they rarely choose the person they truly want most for the given office, instead choosing only from the handful of candidates who got their name on the ballot, a miniscule slice of those who are eligible. Sometimes elections even go unopposed, with only one name to choose from. Instead of such restriction, image if there were a ‘None of the Above’ option. It would be immensely informative, and is an important part of reviving our sickly electoral system.
There is a saying in the U.S. that we often vote for “the lesser of two evils.” For example, in the 2012 Presidential election where the two publicized options were Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, many citizens simply picked the one they disliked less. This is hardly a high-water mark for the country that is the self-proclaimed bastion of democracy.
I believe we need to reboot the electoral system. This goes far beyond election day (deep engagement before it matters more), but part of it is having more citizens cast their vote. Ways of democratizing this ailing democracy include:
- Letting candidates onto the ballot more easily — These are often dubbed “third party” candidates, but to me they are “second party”, as the Republicrats are in the same unified camp. State hurdles are high enough that I don’t realistically expect to be on any ballots this year.
- Write-ins — This is available principly the U.S., a troubling sign for global democracy.
- ‘None of the Above’
Imagine what the results would be in the primaries if the voice of voters (albeit summarized down to a checkbox) could state their dissatisfaction with the offered names. I believe ‘None of the Above’ could become the meter stick for this unhappiness with the pre-selected options. Imagine if, in a 2016 Republican primary, candidate T got 22%, candidate C 19%, and candidate R 12%, but ‘None of the Above’ received 25% of the vote. It would be a glorious day for the populace and a terrible day for the Establishment, because it would show the level of discontent. This discontent is currently not measured. The closest thing we have is write-in of ‘protest candidates’, spoofs like Donald Duck, and non-involvement.
The non-voting contingent is huge but not well understood, precisely because they choose not to use their voice. From my unofficial asking around, the main reason is because they don’t have confidence in the system – either it’s “rigged”, one vote doesn’t matter, or none of the named candidates are appealing. This non-voting demographic is made up of a huge number of ‘None of Above’ voters who don’t yet have that option on their ballot sheet. Bringing them into the fold would be nothing but beneficial for a true democracy. And their numbers are enormous – the publication America goes to the Polls 2012 estimated that 130 million people voted in the 2012 Presidential election, out of 222 million estimated eligible voters. That leaves 92 million outstanding votes. How many would have been for ‘None of the Above’? What if it got more than either Obama or Romney? Such a scenario would be a test of our democracy, as opposed to the current system of restricted voting that does a great job of preserving the status quo.
What would it take to put ‘None of the Above’ on the ballot in every election (from city council to President)? An act of Congress, I presume. A single act, which in reality shouldn’t be that hard to make happen, as Congress of late is happy to waste the taxpayers’ time on things like investigating the ethics of pro sports (Ex. steroids in baseball, concussions in football).
The hitch, though, is political will. Yes, Congresspeople could make this empowering change happen, but it is a threat to them. They got into their positions of power without challenge from ‘None of the Above’, so approving of its addition would voluntarily add in new competition during their subsequent re-election campaigns. So passing such a bill by Congress would require our leaders to prioritize the robustness of our elections over their own self-interest. This is where the rubber hits the road… (And it’s worth noting that I’m certainly not the first one to advocate for ‘None of the Above’ on ballots, and yet it is mysteriously not there and not ever talked about in the media…)
I believe this 239-year-old experiment in democracy should be carried out in full, not in part. Watered-down quasi-elections are not true to the idea (granted, the idea was originally only for landed white men). In the interest of rebooting the electoral system, let’s have ‘None of the Above’ added to every governmental election in the United States, and allow the voice of citizens to be heard louder than ever before.