None of the Above: “Election Reform We Need.”

Friday, October 17, 2008

Every once and a while, I like to float an idea out there that’s a bit of a stretch, that I think is worth talking about even though it’s still a work in progress. Here goes. What the hell, it’s Friday.

As you may know from reading other pieces I’ve been writing, I’m not particularly crazy about either candidate for President. Actually, that was too kind. To be honest, I don’t think either of them knows what he’s doing. Hillary Clinton, maybe, but I find both Senators Obama and McCain to be well short of what I have in mind for The Oval Office. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was pleased with either candidate running for any major office.

My problem is that I don’t want to compare the candidates to each other. I want to compare them individually to some standard I feel we need in anyone who aspires to high office. It’s not that I’m looking for the flawless candidate. I just want a candidate that doesn’t have any major shortcomings and whose ideas about the significant issues of our time are acceptable – not necessarily the same as mine, but acceptable. Anything less that this standard, and I don’t want him or her wasting our time.

“Is this the best our political system can do?” I keep asking myself every two, and especially every four years. And so it’s occurred to me… I want a “Right to Redo” built into the voting process. I’m not talking about the right to recall an elected official. That’s too late, after the fact. What I want is the right to redo the election if the electorate and I, after a reasonable but not endless campaign, still don’t like either of the choices we’ve been offered. I’m tired of settling for someone less than I wanted to elect, and then spending the next four years regretting it.

Suppose we made it the law that every ballot for high office – Governor, US Congress and Senate, and President of course, especially President – have a standard option, a third candidate on every ballot named “None of the Above.” (Write-in votes won’t do it. The option has to be specific and right on the ballot, as legitimate and as easy a choice as voting for any of the candidates.) If None of the Above gets a majority of the vote, the election needs to be held again, but this time with different candidates. The people have spoken. The campaign that just happened has not convinced a majority of the voters that either candidate is worthy of its endorsement. According to law, neither one of the first candidates can run again until the next regular term election.

The law would allow only one “Redo” per election which we schedule far enough in advance, let’s say 90 days from the end of the term, so that the parties have time to play it again. Real campaign financing reform which we desperately need isn’t enough. We need a national primary, and campaigns of limited, much shorter duration. But we also need a formal mechanism for ordinary people who aren’t involved in party politics to send a message: “Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve listened carefully to what they have to say, and neither of these two is acceptable.”

I’m trying to give us an alternative to the negative choice option – the way we now tend to vote for the candidate we dislike the least. I know, I know. It’s radical, some would say “Nutball.” (Who said that?!) But let’s be honest, wouldn’t you like Senator Obama more if he had, let’s say, experience? Between the nice sounding, but empty rhetoric and endless stream of promises he can’t accomplish and none of us can afford, am I the only one getting tired of the sound of his voice? If you’re a McCain supporter, wouldn’t many of you prefer that the Senator were a tad less Republican, less conservative, less old and a lot smarter? You know what I think? I think that if you could somehow merge both candidates, taking only their very best attributes, you still wouldn’t have one I’d want to be President. But then that’s just me.

At the very least, the None of the Above vote, even if it wasn’t a majority, might change the way our political parties select their nominees and the campaigns they run to get elected.

Oh, did I mention that I also think it should be illegal not to vote, that qualified citizens who don’t vote should be fined? Voting, I was taught, is not just a privilege. It’s my duty as an American. So let’s make “compulsory voting” the law. It may very well be both the least and the most important thing we can do for our country. Not a huge fine, just enough to make the non-voter feel bad and think twice. Can you imagine how elections would be different if almost everyone who could vote, did? I can’t, but I’d sure like to find out.

Wow. Do you see now what this election has done to me? …I need a nap. No. I need some Ben & Jerry’s, then a nap.


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