NOTA's presence on Pennsylvania ballots will ensure voters have choices in every election. Not every uncontested election will result in a NOTA victory. But there are times when NOTA can be of real benefit to voters for instance, when an incumbent casts an unpopular vote fight before an election. Statistics compiled by Common Cause show 79 congressmen were running without major party opposition in 1990 when the "bipartisan" budget bill, which contained tax increases, was considered by Congress right before the election. If voters did not like the way their congressman voted, they had no way of showing their dissent other than write-ins, which are not always counted accurately. A NOTA line on ballots would ensure that voter can say "no" and have his or her word count.
If a candidate is caught in a scandal in the campaign, then the binding NOTA becomes a tool for voters. This year, Rep. Wes Cooley (R -Ore.) was alleged to have falsified his background. Cooley maintained his innocence, but even onetime supporters had trouble believing him in the primary Cooley was unopposed, but more blank ballots and write-ins were cast than votes for his renomination. Serious pressure by the state GOP had to be applied to Cooley in order to make him accede to the will of Oregon Republicans.
But NOTA is also a free-market solution to campaign reform that preserves freedom of speech. Placing power with voters, candidates will have to think long and hard about trying to besmirch their opponent's reputation, lest they risk votes going to the NOTA column.
There is another potential plus. NOTA may inspire more voters to come to the polls. Certainly, the lack of cornpetitive legislative races is no inducement for voters to turn out. One responsible public official is state Rep. David G. Argall (R-Pa.) who is sponsoring a binding NOTA bill earlier this year, Argall told the Wall Street Journal: "A binding NOTA would be a way to ensure that both parties are bring their best candidates forward." Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Foundation concurs that NOTA is a needed reform. Their recently published "Agenda for Pennsylvania" includes a recommendation for a binding NOTA, viewing it to be "a very viable alternative" to give voters more power.
Pennsylvania has much to be proud of, helping give birth to a country that grants its citizens freedom. But one of the most basic freedoms is to enable citizens to demand the best of public officials. That is why NOTA lines should be on Pennsylvania's ballots.
(Pottsville native Lilienthal is director of state policy for Free Congress Foundation, a research and education foundation in Washington, D.C.)