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A breakdown of voters in the 2012 general election. Out of 1,013,741 eligible voters, about:




The protest vote
Slim-chance None of the Above bill represents “the power of partisanship”

02/20/14



 State legislators are considering a longshot bill that would add the possibility of voting “None of the above” at the state’s political elections. Both supporters and opposers don’t expect it to get very far, but its proposal has sparked conversation about how people can most effectively protest election candidates. 

The bill’s sponsor, Chuck Weed (D-Keene), says the ballot option would increase voter turnout and provide an opportunity to protest with greater precision. 
“It’s more meaningful to say ‘None of the above’ than ‘Prince Valiant’ or ‘Mickey Mouse,’” Weed said. “A lot of people stay home altogether. … I think all of the options would increase the likelihood that voting would be more meaningful in this country.”
Weed, who has pushed for election reform in the past and sat on the election law committee for two years, said he initiated the bill after a constituent requested it. 
“They wanted to know if there was a way to formally withhold consent. [Voting NOTA] provides a message that maybe there are really problems in the ways the system is providing democracy,” he said. 
Dean Spiliotes, political analyst and author of the NH Political Capital website, said this is the kind of debate political scientists love. A NOTA option could  keep people engaged with the civic process and be a way to measure protest; it’s difficult to know whether low voting turnout is a function of apathy or dissatisfaction, he said. (New Hampshire’s voter turnout in recent elections has tended to be higher than the national average.)
The option could also entice political candidates to think about issues that may be off both party’s agendas but are important to voters, Weed said. For instance, if the people want to talk about the amount of big spending in politics or fair taxes but none of the candidates were willing to discuss those things, the issues could trigger a NOTA vote. 
In the U.S. only Nevada allows a NOTA option on ballots. It’s been there since 1976. When Nevada passed it, a last-minute change prevented the option from being able to scrap both candidates and cause a second election. Instead, the candidate with the most votes still takes office. In January of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal by national Republicans who wanted the option removed from the state’s ballot. Other countries including Ukraine, Spain and India have NOTA or similar variants on ballots. 
When the bill went to the Election Law Committee for review before it hits the House floor, it earned a unanimous “do not recommend” vote, 14 - 0. The reasons were mostly mechanical, said Shawn Jasper (R-Hudson). There were a lot of questions about how the bill would be executed. 
The first question was whether the state’s optical scanning machines could be set up for the vote, Jasper said. The bill was specifically written so that voters could mark down both a candidate and NOTA. As is, if a race has two candidates and someone votes for both, the ballot would be registered as an “overvote” and would not be counted. It was unclear to the committee if a two-vote allowance would even be possible. 
Jasper said that when he examines any bill, he asks himself, ‘What’s the worst-case scenario?’ In this case, if NOTA were to win the elections for governor, governor’s council and the legislation at one time there wouldn’t be a government, at least for a little while. 
“There would be another election but the reality is that takes some time,” he said. 
The bill comes up periodically when people get fed up with the candidates they have to choose from, or with the nation’s two-party political system, and represents the “power of partisanship,” said Andrew Smith, the director of the UNH Survey Center and a political science professor. He said it’s often proposed as a grassroots method by members who hold ideological differences from the leaders of their party and feel like they have been disenfranchised. Smith doesn’t think the bill is a matter of putting pressure on political candidates as much as it is of “poking a finger in the eye of the political structure,” he said. 
When his political science students tell him they don’t think politicians are paying attention to what’s important to them, Smith asks them how often they vote. They tell him they don’t vote. Instead of a NOTA option, people could vote at the primaries if they want to protest candidates, “but if you look at turnout in primaries, it’s woefully low,” he said. 
While Smith said skipping the votes functions the same way, Weed argued that’s not the case because without a NOTA option, a candidate always wins. If NOTA won a ballot election, new candidates would be chosen and a second election would be held. 
“If you look at elections long enough you realize there’s an awful lot of choices not provided us. I think we need to do major work,” Weed said.  
 
As seen in the February 20, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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