You Can Vote “None of the Above”

By David Summers | Related entries in News

Think about everything you have heard from the two presidential campaigns. How much of it was attempts to convince you that an opponent is a “bad guy”, someone who probably doesn’t even care about the country (or even, in some diatribes, actually wants to undermine it)? For example, it seems we are expected to believe either that Obama hates people that build businesses or that Romney hates the poor. And where is any real discussion of actual issues and policies, instead of just straw men and flippant claims about dark motives? If you are like me, you have seen a lot of partisan personal attacks and precious little substance. It seems the adage, “attack the idea, not the man”, has been largely forgotten.

What do the two parties offer to those who complain about this? Little more than the use of charges of partisanship as the basis for partisan attacks on each other. Since a two party system allows few alternatives, it doesn’t matter how bad one party seems (or even actually acts), as long as it can paint the other side as “worse”. “You have to vote for us, look how bad the other guys are.”

What is a voter to do? One interesting idea that has been kicked around is for voters to be able to vote “None of the Above”. This gives voters a way of saying “this just isn’t acceptable” and would give voters a way of saying they are sick of the endless partisan war.

Of course these suggestions have gone nowhere, in part because the parties have no interest in this happening (and the one thing you can see them cooperate on, in a weird synergistic way, is blocking any alternatives to their endless partisan war). But, in fact, we do have a way of voting “None of the Above”.

This can be done with the write-in system. Almost all ballots have a place where you can write in a choice that doesn’t appear on the ballot. So you just write “None of the Above” into the space, and there you are. If a vote for “None of the Above” could get into, or even near, double digits, it would demonstrate that there are enough fed-up people to swing an election. That would make it that much harder for politicians to ignore the alienation of voters and could promote pushes for reform.

Some will argue, why not vote for a real third party? The two parties system, since it denies all alternatives to Democrats or Republicans, shuts out a wide range of alternatives. Trying to settle on one independent candidate or party is difficult for such a wide range of views, scattering the vote around and weakening the message. Writing in “None of the Above” avoids this and, thus, can let people with different viewpoints come together with a clear protest against the electoral system.

Now after all the effort they have put into tearing each other down, the parties don’t want people to just look for a third choice. They will fall back on their usual arguments. “You will be wasting your vote” is a popular one. If you don’t live in a swing state, there is little chance of your vote affecting anything, so why not put it to some real use to protest the partisan two party system? What if you do live in a swing state? Well, in my opinion, the fact is that neither Obama nor Romney (partisan attacks notwithstanding) are either fools or want destroy the country. Conversely, neither one innocent of the partisanship that corrupts the system. It seems clear to me that the damage done to our country, by continuing partisanship in our system, will hurt the country far more than whatever differences might exist between these two men. The idea that you have to vote for the “lesser of two evils” to avoid “wasting your vote” is a myth that serves to prevent voters from seeking alternatives. In the end, the “lesser of two evils” is still “an evil”.


This entry was posted on Thursday, October 18th, 2012 and is filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

26 Responses to “You Can Vote “None of the Above””

  1. cranky critter Says:

    I like this idea if it’s “no confidence” and can trigger the rejection of both candidates and a new election they can’t be part of… .

  2. mdgeorge Says:

    I disagree with your assertion that this will help anything….a large portion of the populace already votes for “none of the above” by not voting, and many of them for exactly the reasons you cite. Nobody cares, and the system doesn’t change.

    You might argue that if this catches on and large numbers of people vote for NOTA, then it might bring some more attention to these issues, but I don’t buy it. The media is always making lots of hay about “bipartisanship” remember everyone being all nice and sitting bipartisanly at the SOTU a few years ago?

    I think easy gestures like this are meaningless, and are also easily coopted by the same rabid partisans that they are designed to prevent. If you want to change your options, it takes work . Like writing letters representatives and the media, calling out partisans that you broadly agree with when they make spurious claims, and engaging in good faith discussion with partisans you don’t agree with.

    Then again, I’m wearing my Obama t-shirt as I type this, so maybe I’m just a cog in the machine.

  3. djthefreethinker Says:

    I think this highlights the lack of critical thinking and decision making skills people (in general) have today. It’s called do your homework. Both men have track records with explanations a mile long that shows a pattern of how they think, feel and vote about issues. Even though we are in the information age, the whining about not knowing enough about the candidates is simply ridiculous and proves how freaking lazy people can be when it comes to grabbing low hanging fruit. Why complain about “the man” trying to limit or eliminate access to the internet and free information when accessibility and freedom only involves hype/celebrity blogs, sports and video games?

    Stop complaining, do your homework and then practice your critical thinking and decision making skills. Must ALL the thinking be done for you? It’s impossible to not know there is a stark difference between how the two men have managed their jobs and responsibilities.

    Sheesh!!!

  4. David P. Summers Says:

    I like this idea if it’s “no confidence” and can trigger the rejection of both candidates and a new election they can’t be part of… .

    Well, a properly implemented system would have a formal result of such voting. However, while that idea has a certain popularity, it has always been blocked. As it now, there is really little way for voters to express alienation. Without some way of demonstrating just how deep such alienation it is harder to get gather the support for doing something about it.

    That is why I like this approach. I had already decided to not vote for one of the two main parties. I think this is a clearer message than most any other alternative votes.

  5. David P. Summers Says:

    I disagree with your assertion that this will help anything….a large portion of the populace already votes for “none of the above” by not voting, and many of them for exactly the reasons you cite. Nobody cares, and the system doesn’t change.

    The problem is that not voting gets conflated with “apathy” or “doesn’t care”, not with “cares but feels marginalized by the system’.

    You might argue that if this catches on and large numbers of people vote for NOTA, then it might bring some more attention to these issues, but I don’t buy it. The media is always making lots of hay about “bipartisanship” remember everyone being all nice and sitting bipartisanly at the SOTU a few years ago?

    I think easy gestures like this are meaningless, and are also easily coopted by the same rabid partisans that they are designed to prevent. If you want to change your options, it takes work . Like writing letters representatives and the media, calling out partisans that you broadly agree with when they make spurious claims, and engaging in good faith discussion with partisans you don’t agree with.

    Well it isn’t attended to bring attention to “the issues” but to “a” issue, that we need to change the system. Yes, the media, and the parties, talk a lot about “bipartisanship” because that is what the voters want. But in the end it all gets degraded into partisan charges of partisanship, because that is what the parties want. This would go to the heart of the matter, that many thing that _both_ parties suck.

    Then again, I’m wearing my Obama t-shirt as I type this, so maybe I’m just a cog in the machine.

    Well, if you are happy with one of the two choices that we are restricted to making, then this isn’t really something you need. For the some of us, however, I think it is a good way to go.

  6. cranky critter Says:

    Without some sort of proxy candidate (like say, all the alienated vote for Vermin Supreme or some other candidate) then any protest vote does’t really register, does it?

    Supposing there’s a certain level of alienation and dissatisfaction, the current system effectively dissipates it by not registering it. So anyone can choose to cast a vote that gives them some measure of personal satisfaction, but let’s face it, that’s about it.

    That’s why I like the idea of a proxy candidate. If all the ranks of the dissatisfied agreed to vote for the same non-viable candidate, especially a farcical figure like Vermin Supreme, that would at least make a blip.

  7. David P. Summers Says:

    Without some sort of proxy candidate (like say, all the alienated vote for Vermin Supreme or some other candidate) then any protest vote does’t really register, does it?

    It is a protest vote. It doesn’t elect anyone, but it sends a message which is important if you don’t, as I mentioned, fall into the trap of believing you will be “wasting your vote”.

    Supposing there’s a certain level of alienation and dissatisfaction, the current system effectively dissipates it by not registering it. So anyone can choose to cast a vote that gives them some measure of personal satisfaction, but let’s face it, that’s about it.

    I think you underestimate the importance. As you mention, the current system doesn’t register alienation and dissatisfaction. But it doesn’t “dissipate” it, it simply denies it. So far, pretending it doesn’t exist give the political system an excuse to ignore it. This is a way of preventing them from being able to ignore it.

    Sure, if someone would prefer to, since they have been denied any alternative, simply decide which partisan hack they have to settle for (assuming they live in a swing state and it matters at all), rather than try and help change the partisan system, then this isn’t for you.

    That’s why I like the idea of a proxy candidate. If all the ranks of the dissatisfied agreed to vote for the same non-viable candidate, especially a farcical figure like Vermin Supreme, that would at least make a blip.

    Well, you have the problem of taking a wide range of people who have very different views but agree on one thing, they current system need fixing, and getting them all behind one person. Sure, if you can pull this off, I could be inclined to support you. But no one was able to do it in this election, so what do we do _now_, accept the partisans choices or say this doesn’t work.

  8. Angela Says:

    Voting “None of the Above” solves nothing, does nothing, has no results. We need more than 2 parties.

  9. Angela Says:

    Useless. If a district is lined to pack voters, makes no difference if the undecided or opposition vote none of the above.

  10. Tully Says:

    People already vote for None of the Above in specific races. They do it by not voting that race while voting others. You want to know how many are “voting” for none of the above in a given race? Simply compare overall turnout in any given precinct with the overall votes for any given race in the same precinct. This can be extended to cover any district.

  11. David P. Summers Says:

    Voting “None of the Above” solves nothing, does nothing, has no results. We need more than 2 parties.

    So what should we do that isn’t “useless”? Scatter our vote amongst the usual collection of third parties that aren’t acceptable to the mainstream? Give up and not vote so we can be counted as apathetic and forgotten about? Vote for one of the two main parties and support keeping things as they are?

    I agree with needing more than 2 parties. But we aren’t going to get it with the current system unless we change they system and that isn’t going to happen as long those who want change are not heard. I’m not saying it is a panacea, but showing that people alienated enough that a protest vote is better than participation in the partisan system is better than the alternatives, and a lot more than doing nothing.

  12. David P. Summers Says:

    People already vote for None of the Above in specific races. They do it by not voting that race while voting others. You want to know how many are “voting” for none of the above in a given race? Simply compare overall turnout in any given precinct with the overall votes for any given race in the same precinct. This can be extended to cover any district.

    Not voting, whether it is in an election as a whole, or specific races on a ballot, always gets conflated with “doesn’t care” or “too uninformed to choose”. Attempts to get them interpreted otherwise will run into the point that these labels are true for at least some. Voting “None of the Above” makes a statement that you do care and you don’t like the choices being given.

  13. Angela Says:

    Reform will have to come from the bottom, a grassroots movement.

  14. David P. Summers Says:

    “Reform will have to come from the bottom, a grassroots movement.”

    All the more reason to show that there is support for such a movement.

  15. Tully Says:

    A distinction without much point in the real world of politics, David. “Sending a message” doesn’t mean much without elected candidates to push the message. The parties don’t care about the message if there’s no real power behind it.

    If you want to have real grass-roots effect, get involved in primaries and less-extreme down-ballot candidates. The candidates for both parties are “picked” every cycle from the local level up by an absurdly small number of voters who actually SHOW UP in the primaries, especially in the off-year elections.

    Neither party became the wing brigades they are today because of a lack of third parties. They got that way because wingers actually SHOW UP in the primaries, helping their ideologues beat out more moderate and pragmatic candidates on the primary ticket, leaving us with the choice between two extremes in the general election. So we get wild swings between dueling ideologies, but little in the way of pragmatic problem-solving.

    Everyone wants a top-down simplistic “fix” that will provide instant gratification. The ideologues will always have an edge there.

  16. David P. Summers Says:

    A distinction without much point in the real world of politics, David. “Sending a message” doesn’t mean much without elected candidates to push the message. The parties don’t care about the message if there’s no real power behind it.

    For brevity I’ve not quoted where Tully expounds on the point.

    No, a protest vote can’t replace a real grass roots effort. OTOH, a real grass roots effort can make use of a protest vote.

    We have to argument that this isn’t the “right” or “best” way. However, right now (a week before the election), attempts at grass roots efforts and third party candidates with real support are not in the cards for 2012. So the question is what do you do _now_ if you don’t want to simply validate the two party system? I’ve seen little in the way of alternatives and I feel this is better than giving up and doing nothing. (It can’t be worse.)

    Everyone wants a top-down simplistic “fix” that will provide instant gratification. The ideologues will always have an edge there.

    I agree, which is why I’m mystified by arguments that say we shouldn’t vote “None of the Above” because it won’t “fix” things. No it isn’t a “fix”, but, esp. in the face of few alternatives, I think it can be a help and is better than doing nothing (again, it can’t be worse).

    In this partisan age, we have the approach of arguing against things because they “don’t fix the problem”, as if anything that doesn’t completely solve a problem shouldn’t even be tried. I thinks sometimes even those of us who oppose partisanship get caught up in partisan approaches.

  17. Angela Says:

    So, lets say some 1 million voters vote “none of the above” at this years election. Either Obama or Romney will win either way. If anything, voting “none of the above” are wasted votes. If only those wasted votes were cast for one or the other candidate, it could make a difference in the outcome of who wins the election. If the desired result is to protest or send a message that the current system isn’t working, then voting “none of the above” accomplishes neither if anything at all.

  18. David P. Summers Says:

    So, lets say some 1 million voters vote “none of the above” at this years election. Either Obama or Romney will win either way. If anything, voting “none of the above” are wasted votes. If only those wasted votes were cast for one or the other candidate, it could make a difference in the outcome of who wins the election. If the desired result is to protest or send a message that the current system isn’t working, then voting “none of the above” accomplishes neither if anything at all.

    This is the usual argument that you have against all alternatives (whether it is “None of the Above”, or a Third Party), “you have to vote for ‘us’ to keep the ‘other guy’ from being elected and ruining the country.”

    Lets assume you live in a swing state (since the argument fails immediately if you don’t), and lets also assume that you buy into the view that choosing the wrong guy will ruin the country (which is dubious and, by definition, is something that most swing voters don’t believe), you still have to ask yourself which is worse, having the ‘wrong person’ elected president for four years, or helping validate a dysfunctional political system. If you think your vote will make a difference in who is elected, and you buy into the premise that we have to elect ‘our guy’, then sure, this isn’t for you. For those who thing the real probably is a partisan system, I think this is worth considering.

    This approach one reason why things are so negative, each party wants to convince you the “other guy” is so bad that you have to vote for “our side” (no matter what, no matter how negatives we are, no matter how bad we behave). In a weird synergistic way, it means by vilifying each other they let each other avoid responsibility for how they behave. It is also the usual catch 22, they convince you votes for third parties are “wasted” because they won’t win which means that it hard for third party to get the support needed to win, nicely freeing the two parties from having to deal with an alternatives to each other.

  19. David P. Summers Says:

    [This post fixes the quoting error in the previous post.]

    So, lets say some 1 million voters vote “none of the above” at this years election. Either Obama or Romney will win either way. If anything, voting “none of the above” are wasted votes. If only those wasted votes were cast for one or the other candidate, it could make a difference in the outcome of who wins the election. If the desired result is to protest or send a message that the current system isn’t working, then voting “none of the above” accomplishes neither if anything at all.

    This is the usual argument that you have against all alternatives (whether it is “None of the Above”, or a Third Party), “you have to vote for ‘us’ to keep the ‘other guy’ from being elected and ruining the country.”

    Lets assume you live in a swing state (since the argument fails immediately if you don’t), and lets also assume that you buy into the view that choosing the wrong guy will ruin the country (which is dubious and, by definition, is something that most swing voters don’t believe), you still have to ask yourself which is worse, having the ‘wrong person’ elected president for four years, or helping validate a dysfunctional political system. If you think your vote will make a difference in who is elected, and you buy into the premise that we have to elect ‘our guy’, then sure, this isn’t for you. For those who thing the real probably is a partisan system, I think this is worth considering.

    This approach one reason why things are so negative, each party wants to convince you the “other guy” is so bad that you have to vote for “our side” (no matter what, no matter how negatives we are, no matter how bad we behave). In a weird synergistic way, it means by vilifying each other they let each other avoid responsibility for how they behave. It is also the usual catch 22, they convince you votes for third parties are “wasted” because they won’t win which means that it hard for third party to get the support needed to win, nicely freeing the two parties from having to deal with an alternatives to each other.

  20. Penny Says:

    I’ve liked the idea of NOTA ever since I saw it in Brewster’s Millions back in the ’80s. I’ve spent hours and hours listening to the debates and reading about the candidates’ positions on all of the issues, but I cannot with good a conscience vote for either Obama or Romney or any of the 3rd party candidates. They are all too extreme for me and make me feel like elections nowadays are a contest for one half of the country to dominate and stick it to the other half, rather than setting a course leading to a better country for everyone.
    Whether Obama or Romney wins, I will be equally disappointed with the direction our country is taking. But I feel it is every citizen’s civic duty to cast a vote, so what is a person to do at this point?
    I’m taking David’s advice and voting NOTA so at least my conscience will let me sleep at night because like he said, choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing an evil.

  21. Tully Says:

    Perot voters gave Clinton the White House. Nader voters gave W the White House. It’s doubtful that the bulk of either achieved with their votes what they would consider an optimal outcome. In both cases, their “sending a message” resulted in their least favored candidate winning.

    That’s how the NOTA/3rdParty vote things works out in the real world. Where splinter voting has an effect, it’s almost always to help elect the candidate farthest from the splinter voter’s position. Angela is on the money.

  22. David P. Summers Says:

    Perot voters gave Clinton the White House. Nader voters gave W the White House. It’s doubtful that the bulk of either achieved with their votes what they would consider an optimal outcome. In both cases, their “sending a message” resulted in their least favored candidate winning.

    That’s how the NOTA/3rdParty vote things works out in the real world. Where splinter voting has an effect, it’s almost always to help elect the candidate farthest from the splinter voter’s position. Angela is on the money.

    Well, first of all, people in states that aren’t swing states don’t really have to worry about this.

    But, if someone had capitalized on what was going to get structural reform, rather than try and make a third party (which the system doesn’t allow) then they might have gotten further. They also didn’t have the levels of partisanship driving the level of discontent and it would have helped to send a message that addressed directly that the system is the problem (which is why I like “none of the above” better than voting for a third party) rather than get caught up in a person (Perot) as the savior).

    But, in the end, if you want to accept that it is more important for you choose the “lesser of two evils” choice th parties have given you, then you will indeed be worried about “wasting your vote”. For me, and I think many like me, I decided that partisanship was worse than the difference between the parties and vowed to never vote for one of the two major parties again.

  23. cranky critter Says:

    David, the logic that you simply CANNOT escape is this:

    Even refusing to choose is a choice, and brings consequences with it.

    You said:

    For me, and I think many like me, I decided that partisanship was worse than the difference between the parties and vowed to never vote for one of the two major parties again.

    Yes, and the consequence of this choice is that the opinion of you and those who feel like you is dissipated (my word) or denied (my choice). It’s really just another version of “if a tree falls in the woods… .” right?

    So like I said before, any vote such as what you suggest may please you. But it’s not realistic to think you are being heard, or at least heard in a way that your message is not simply received, but actually heeded in any meaningful way.

    That’s the real goal, isn’t it? Not to simply send a message. Not for the message to be recieved and then ignored. But for the message to be received and also heeded.

  24. David P. Summers Says:

    David, the logic that you simply CANNOT escape is this:

    Even refusing to choose is a choice, and brings consequences with it.

    You said:

    For me, and I think many like me, I decided that partisanship was worse than the difference between the parties and vowed to never vote for one of the two major parties again.

    Yes, and the consequence of this choice is that the opinion of you and those who feel like you is dissipated (my word) or denied (my choice). It’s really just another version of “if a tree falls in the woods… .” right?

    This is restatement of the “wasting your vote” claim.

    You call it “dissipating” but what you are dissipating is only a choice between one of the two main parties (which I find isn’t much of consequence). “Wasting your vote” is the idea that you have to accept the main party choices, as bad as they are, to preserve your right to choose between those bad choices. (of course if you don’t live in a swing state, you don’t really even get that). This is the old catch-22. As long as they can keep people accepting this premise, nobody will vote for someone else, and then they can use the vote for someone to claim you are “wasting you vote”. Of course then you are just giving up on things ever changing. In exchange you choose between candidates, neither of which is really evil and, even if they were, you could never tell because in the partisan system even good men are called evil.

    So like I said before, any vote such as what you suggest may please you. But it’s not realistic to think you are being heard, or at least heard in a way that your message is not simply received, but actually heeded in any meaningful way.

    That’s the real goal, isn’t it? Not to simply send a message. Not for the message to be recieved and then ignored. But for the message to be received and also heeded.

    It is heard as much as any vote. One vote along doesn’t have much of a voice in a protest, but then it doesn’t do much to choosing the “lesser evil” either. If you can get more people to vote, it has just as much effect as the swings the parties go for. If instead of swinging 5 or 10 % from one party to another we swung it to a third party, a protest vote, etc. it would be heard. But we have voters voting for people they don’t want because of the myth of “wasting your vote”.

    One vote is not a panacea, but if you think you shouldn’t bother because you one vote won’t make a difference alone, then there is no reason to bother voting.

  25. cranky critter Says:

    Not what i said David. If you want to cast a vote simply to feel good about your personal integrity, I respect that. All I am saying is don’t lie to yourself that any message is received.

    It is heard as much as any vote.

    Disagree. Each vote for Romney and Obama was heard as an accumulation.The rest weren’t. In terms of messages delivered, the other votes were all negligible.

    One vote along doesn’t have much of a voice in a protest

    Right. You need an accumulation that reaches a critical volume.

  26. David P. Summers Says:

    It is heard as much as any vote.

    Disagree. Each vote for Romney and Obama was heard as an accumulation.The rest weren’t. In terms of messages delivered, the other votes were all negligible.

    One vote along doesn’t have much of a voice in a protest

    Right. You need an accumulation that reaches a critical volume.

    I still don’t understand how this addresses the point I made in my last comment. One vote for _anything_ (main party, third party, protest), doesn’t mean much unless you can get other votes to go along with you. That is what you mean by “accumulation”, right? So why is this an argument for “how” you vote (since it applies to votes for the main parties, just as much as to votes the main parties would claim you are “wasting”). I would seem to be the classic arguement against voting at all.

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