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   Why We Should Add 'None of the Above' to the Ballot

COMMENTARY:

Why We Should Add 'None of the Above' to the Ballot

by J. Russell Tyldesley
The big lie works well in politics. It doesn't matter how egregious the lie, if it seems to reflect the voter's preconceived notions, the actual veracity is unimportant. Later exposure of the lie is usually tossed off as "just politics as usual, everybody does it." So the real choice is always the lesser of the evils. But does it have to be?
I was reading J. H. Hatfield's biography of George W. Bush, Fortunate Son, and got to thinking about elections, voter apathy,and voter education.

Hatfield points out that prior to Bush's campaign for the governorship of Texas, Laura Bush never imagined her husband as running for office and did not want this for herself and her children. I'm sure her recollection may be different today. In any event, she was probably unaware, at the time, of the powerful forces that had a different vision for her husband. Perhaps George Bush himself really had no idea that he would run for office, as he continued to express indifference right up to the eve of the gubernatorial primaries. It turned out, of course, that he did run, and was opposed only by a demolitions expert—a relative unknown, politically. Bush handily won the primary with only 17.5% of the eligible voters turning out at the polls.

In his campaign against the very popular incumbent Governor, Ann Richards, Bush told one lie after another, totally mischaracterizing her record. The issues he harped on were the very ones where she was a vast improvement over the previous Governor. Nonetheless, the Bush charges threw her off balance. She elected to defend herself and correct Bush's mis-statements, while she also tried to get voters to focus on the lightness of his experience, and his numerous business failures, albeit all bailed out by friends of Bush Sr.

George W. stayed on message during the campaign--tough on crime, against government regulation, against welfare for the poor, and for family values. He refused comment on Richard's charges that he was intentionally distorting her record. He also refused to clarify revelations about his own business record, his National Guard record, and his drinking and philandering problems.

The tactic worked. Richards came off as the "nasty " and he as the gracious statesman who wouldn't engage in "gutter politics." In view of his record as the dirty tricks meister, managing his father's campaigns, this personality remake was quite an accomplishment.

Polls indicated that many Texas voters never figured out that it was the former President's son, not the former President, who was running for the Governor's office. George W. never felt a strong urge to clarify.

George the younger ran a similar campaign against Gore, sticking to his core simplicities, and eschewing open, live debate. The press obliged by allowing Mr. Bush to dodge questions he did not want to answer or to which he had no answer; but, for the most part, they avoided the tough questions altogether--why spoil the moment?

As a matter of tactics, it was obvious that the big lie works well in politics. In fact, it doesn't matter how egregious the lie, if it seems to reflect the voter's preconceived notions, the actual veracity is unimportant. Anyway, later exposure of the lie is usually tossed off as "just politics as usual, everybody does it." So the real choice is always the lesser of the evils. But does it have to be?

One of the many needed election reforms is to have ballots clearly marked with the option, "None of the Above" or, if there are only two candidates listed, "Neither of the Above." Voter education drives should stress this as a viable option--a far better alternative to just staying at home.

There are many other progressive voting system reforms that could be suggested, such as Instant Runoff Voting, Cumulative Voting, Choice Voting, Proportional representation, or ballot access, but all of them have vocal opponents. The " None of the Above" option, howver, is very clear. it is a protest vote that carries clout. In fact, its use could be an indicator of the necessity for other reforms--or not.

Its immediate effect might be to place a premium on honesty and substance in a campaign. For instance, if, with only two candidates to choose from, both candidates stoop to name-calling or misrepresent their opponent's record, or just plain play dirty, there may be a price to pay, even if they beat their competition. After all, how would it feel to place second to, "Neither of the Above?" Such a result could end political careers that probably should be ended.

Of course, election reform is not enough. We also need democratic reforms. How else to deal with situations such as John Ashcroft? Here is a case where a candidate loses an election to a dead man, but even with such a puny mandate, manages to be in charge of a radical transformation of our justice system, turning back some of the great gains of the civil rights era. The good voters of Missouri did indeed cast a "None of the Above " vote at the state level, but they were nullified in some ways at the Federal level. For their sake I hope Mr. Ashcroft doesn't hold a grudge. Meanwhile, they must await hoped-for poetic justice.

In the 2000 election, G.W. Bush received fewer than 25% of the vote of citizens eligible to vote. Not only that, he lost a plurality of the national vote to Al Gore. Despite this tepid mandate, he acted from day one as if he had won in a landslide and was licensed to apply his radical right vision to the American landscape, effective immediately.

The reality is that any initial inclination by Congress to thwart the Republican steamroller was effectively ended by the events of 9/11. From a political standpoint, the President can ride the white horse as anti-terror warrior-in-chief as long as it has legs.

We will find out two years from now if the voters will question a "mandate" that reduces the quality of life, increases poverty, allows the environment to degrade, encourages the death sentence, wages multi-venue wars against people we don't like, shuns international treaties, engages in continuous fundraising and politicking, puts the nation deeper in debt, allows good jobs to be shipped overseas and illiterate immigrants imported to work here at low wage, countenances unsafe jobs, and generally deregulates and allows privatization to squander our public assets.

If Congress allows these and other transgressions to happen, even in the name of freedom, then, " None of the Above " seems a necessary reform for the mid-term Congressional contests as well.


J. Russell Tyldesley writes from Catonsville, MD.


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This story was published on August 7, 2002.
  
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