The New Hampshire legislature is in the early stages of considering an electoral novelty: allowing Granite State voters to cast their ballots for “none of the above.” It’s a great idea. Every state should consider similar legislation. The New Hampshire bill, proposed by state Rep. Charles Weed (D), is an unusual idea in American politics but not a unique one: Nevada has offered its voters a “none of the above” option in statewide races since 1976. The New Hampshire version appears to have “the proverbial snowball’s chance of passing the House,” says John DiStaso at the New Hampshire Union Leader. Weed’s stated motivation for a “none of the above” option is to give voters a way to lodge a meaningful protest vote. “Real choice means people have to be able to withhold their consent,” he tells The Associated Press. “You can’t do that with silly write-ins. Mickey Mouse is not as good as ‘none of the above.'” The arguments against the bill from Weed’s colleagues range from the absurd to the nonsensical. Secretary of State Bill Gardner, for example, says that voters won’t know what “none of the above” means, since ballots now list names left-to-right, not top-to-bottom.
Rep. Bob Perry (R) got a bit closer to the mark when he argued that the system would be a way to “legitimize hostility” by voters. “The ultimate way to protest, I suppose, is to stay home,” he added.
But that’s the best case for why voters should have this option: so they don’t stay home. Voter turnout in presidential elections is barely acceptable for the world’s oldest living democracy, but in midterm and local elections, it’s pathetic. If voters feel they have a real chance to signal their disgust for the incumbent and the challenger, or Washington, or politics in general, they might at least turn up to vote. And once in the voting booth, they might tick their preferences in local elections — the kind where your vote counts a lot more.
Rep. Douglas Ley (D), a supporter of the bill, says he thinks the opposition is based less on what’s good for voters and more on what’s comfortable for lawmakers. “It’s hard enough to lose to an opponent. It’s doubly hard to lose to nobody,” Ley tells the AP. “We have tender egos. It’s one of the reasons why I think it’s been opposed, but no one will ever say that.”