- In Depth -
This article is part of an in-depth discussion of NOTA both by Voters For: None of the Above and others, including endorsements of NOTA as well as discussions of issues and concerns related to implementing NOTA. We believe that a free and open discussion of NOTA, both for and against, will provide the best foundation for NOTA as law.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest an item for inclusion in the "In Depth" section or as a link. We also plan to add a newsgroup for NOTA to allow for an unmediated exchange of ideas.
Oregon Republicans wish there was something they could do about Representative Wes Cooley, a freshman who is in hot water over allegations he misled people about his military record and the date of his marriage. Three of his staffers have resigned, and it looks as if a Democrat could win the seat this fall. Mr. Cooley won the GOP primary last month because he was unopposed, but he received only 23,000 votes while 31,000 voters wrote in someone else or kept their ballots blank. It's as if the second-place finisher at this year's Olympic Games was awarded the Gold Medal. It's time to consider giving voters a binding None of the Above line on ballots.
NOTA, as it's called, would be useful in many cases where an elected official lands in trouble but has no effective opposition. Representative Mel Reynolds of Illinois was indicted on sex charges in mid-1994, but he won reelection with 98% of the vote because he had no opponent. He had to be pressured to resign in October 1995 following his conviction. NOTA would also be useful when both major parties offer up a Hobson's choice, such as the 1991 Louisiana governor's race between Edwin Edwards and David Duke.
NOTA would also be useful in states without a history of robust competitive politics. In Arkansas, less than half of state legislative races will feature more than one candidate this fall. In Pennsylvania, GOP state legislator David Argall notes that one fifth of his colleagues will be running unopposed. "A binding NOTA would be a way to ensure that both parties are bring their best candidates forward," he says.
The mechanics behind NOTA would be simple. If a plurality of votes are cast for NOTA, the candidates who lost to it would be disqualified from a special election held to fill the vacancy. If people think the NOTA wording is too negative, the ballot line could instead read: "In Favor of a New Election."
Most elected officials naturally oppose NOTA, but support for it is building among both conservatives and liberals. Representative Pete Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, has introduced a NOTA bill covering federal races and he notes that the Michigan House has passed GOP Representative Greg Kaza's bill to allow a non-binding NOTA experiment. The bill is now before the State Senate. Ralph Nader believes the two-dozen states with the right of initiative would approve NOTA and build up its credibility. The Green Party, under whose banner Mr. Nader is running for President, has used NOTA successfully in its party primaries.
Citizens are increasingly showing their displeasure with the political
process by not voting. Including NOTA on the ballot could give citizens a reason to go to
the polls even if they aren't enthusiastic about the choices, and would be far more
effective than campaign finance reform in reducing the overwhelming advantages of
incumbents. NOTA might even discourage highly negative campaigning, since candidates would
be running for the approval of voters, not just to offend fewer people than their