Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

None of the Above

Jerry Stratton, February 27, 2000

California’s proposition 23, the “None of the Above” ballot option, is horribly flawed, almost designed to fail. “None of the Above” is an elegantly simple idea when it has teeth. It means the voters don’t want any of the listed choices. They want “none of the above” as their elected official. They’re willing to go through the trouble of another election , or they’re willing to let that seat remain unfilled until the next election cycle.

Proposition 23, on the other hand, is more like “I don’t care” than “None of the Above”. If 50,000 voters vote “None of the Above”, two voters vote for John Smith, and one voter votes for Jane Johnson, John Smith wins the election. That’s downright silly. If the voters say that we don’t want any of the choices, our vote should mean exactly that: we don’t want John Smith or Jane Johnson.

There are two general ways of implementing a true “None of the Above” option. The most commonly suggested is that a a new election be called within a set period of time. Candidates can get on the ballot under the same rules and restrictions as the previous ballot. Obviously, all parties could choose to put the same candidates on the ballot, but if one party breaks rank and puts a new candidate on the ballot they’ll have the advantage. “None of the above” can keep winning, of course, and if no candidate is elected before the current official steps down, that position goes unfilled until the voters make a choice.

This is a nice idea, but I prefer the second option: if voters select “None of the above”, it means exactly that. No one fills that position until the next election cycle. The seat still exists; it still counts in vote counts and quorum determinations. Though considered present for all votes, it automatically abstains from all votes. If the position has signatory approval, it automatically “pocket vetoes” any items sent to it for approval.

This would make the voter’s choice absolutely clear. They really don’t want any of the current options in that position, period. So much so that they’re willing to let the position go empty for an entire election cycle. They’re willing to go without the perks of having their own state or federal representative.

Proposition 23 is meant to provide for a “symbolic” vote, but this symbolism doesn’t add anything without teeth. Conceptually and legally, this diluted “None of the Above” is nothing more than not voting at all for that position. This is a useful thing to do--but it doesn’t require changing the law. Any voter can already do that. The symbolism of voting for “nobody” is useful and good. But Proposition 23 doesn’t give us, as voters, any benefit beyond what we can already do.

I will, however, vote yes on Proposition 23, and I urge you to do the same. Firstly, because it does provide a clear indication that a vote can be symbolic. Psychologically, people feel the need to make choices, and leaving a contest empty is psychologically difficult to do. Providing an “I don’t want to vote” checkbox will help us realize that we aren’t tied to the choices presented on the ballot.

The arguments presented against proposition 23 in the California voter’s information guide are smokescreens. They claim, for example, that “if you do vote, you should be able to cast a meaningful vote for a candidate you like”. Proposition 23 doesn’t take that ability away from you. It doesn’t take anyone’s name off of the ballot.

They also argue that proposition 23 will draw votes away from current third parties. This is just silly. No one who is currently voting for third parties will stop voting for third parties. Third parties get very few votes already, and those voters know what they want. They’ve already reached the understanding that they aren’t tied to the “big two” parties. A “none of the above” option is going to siphon most of its votes away from the big two, not third parties. I can practically guarantee it.

The only argument that makes sense is that Proposition 23’s “none of the above” can’t win. But it will be much easier to fix that after “none of the above” has its foot in the door. Once we have “None of the Above” on the ballot, we can give it some teeth later on.

The second reason I’m going to vote “yes” on Proposition 23 is that “none of the above” is a good idea that deserves to win. Yes, it’s true that Proposition 23 does a piss-poor job of implementing it. But voting for Proposition 23 means that you support the “none of the above” concept. Voting against Proposition 23 will be taken as opposition to “none of the above”, even if you are only opposed to this particular implementation. The flaws with Proposition 23 can be fixed later. The message needs to be sent now.

There is one thing that Proposition 23 will not do. It isn’t going to increase participation in the voting process. It becomes popular around election time for pundits to bemoan the lack of participation in the vote. But in a free country, the right to vote has to include the right not to vote. Free speech doesn’t mean that everyone has to talk all the time; freedom of association includes the freedom to be alone occasionally; the right to bear arms is also the right to abstain from arms. And the right to vote has to be the right to focus your voting on issues which you are concerned with or knowledgeable about. To the extent that “None of the Above” encourages people to vote only on issues that they have a real opinion about, it is at least partially a success. Not voting is as much of a responsibility as voting is, and it can be a lot harder to do. There’s a strong temptation to just “make a guess” and put someone down. But voting isn’t a crap shoot--or at least, it isn’t supposed to be. There’s not only nothing wrong with not voting on issues or seats which you have no knowledge of, not voting in those ballots is the right and honorable thing to do. Otherwise, we might just as well require candidates to have “nice” names, or even worse, require them to be even more photogenic than we already do. Voting without knowledge guarantees voting based on irrelevant qualities.

Vote Yes on Proposition 23, “None of the Above”.

Other Propositions:

Proposition 26 repeals the two-thirds majority required to borrow money on the future and allows a simple majority to enact these new taxes. This is a change in the wrong direction. Future voters will be paying off those bonds for ten or twenty years. There must be some safeguard to ensure that a majority will always support those taxes. Requiring a two-thirds, instead of a simple majority, is the simplest way of doing so. Even if a small percentage of voters change their mind, the majority will remain in agreement with the tax increase.

Personally, I think all laws should require a two-thirds majority. If the benefit of the new law (or new tax) is not so obvious that two-thirds of the voters support it, we should not be requiring 100% of everybody to pay those taxes, nor should we be putting people in jail for failing to follow those laws. Laws and taxes are already too easy to pass. We have so many that noone can follow them all.

Proposition 26 has nothing to do with schools. That part of the proposition is a bribe. If you take the bribe, you are only taking your children’s future money. If you support schools, then get a bond on the ballot that supports schools, and get two thirds of the voting population to agree that their money is worth that support. If Proposition 26 passes, all it means is that general funds that used to go to schools can now be diverted elsewhere. Proposition 26 will start a shell game with billions under the shells, and education won’t be much of a winner in that game. If you look on page 69 of your voter information guide, you’ll see that one of the supporters of this “education” initiative is the “California Organizations of Police and Sheriffs”. Is this selflessness on their part? I suspect not. More likely, they recognize that Proposition 26 means more general purpose moneys can be shifted to their own departments.

Vote No on Proposition 26, “Local Majority Vote”.

Proposition 22, the “Limit on Marriages” proposal, is a hate law. It forbids something which is already forbidden. Its only purpose is to say “we hate you, you are in our power, and there is nothing you can do about it”.

Vote No on Proposition 22, “Limit on Marriages”.

July 3, 2009: removed the “do you agree” banner.

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