President Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney must face down a dubious and slippery opponent in Nevada this November. The mystery foe cannot be tamed with television ads and never breaks a campaign pledge. Its name is “none of these candidates.” Nevada is the only state in the nation to offer voters the quirky ballot choice, and for more than three decades, statewide candidates here have had to contend with it. But this year, nervous Republicans have filed a federal lawsuit to try to oust “none” from the ballot. They worry that “none” could siphon away a sufficient number of anti-Obama voters from Romney to throw the state to the president. And because the Silver State’s six electoral votes are some of the most hotly contested in the nation, Republicans don’t want to leave anything to chance.
The Republican National Committee declined to comment for this story, but an official there acknowledged that the party is bankrolling the lawsuit, filed last month, to add “clarity” to the ballot. In this state, known for its love of long odds, it’s not as outlandish as it sounds that “none” could have a big impact on the outcome. It has before. In 1998, now-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid squeaked past Republican John Ensign by barely more than 400 votes in his reelection bid; “none” tallied more than 8,000 votes that year.
“None” has even won some primary elections, albeit not recently. When “none” wins, the second-place finisher is named the winner, and that is the crux of the GOP lawsuit, which argues that “none” is disenfranchising Nevada voters. “One of the above candidates is going to get elected,” said Bruce Woodbury, a Republican and a former longtime Clark County commissioner, who is among those signing onto the lawsuit. He called the “none” option a “bait-and-switch scam.” The lawsuit’s chances are slim, said Rick Hasen, an election-law expert and a professor at the University of California (Irvine) law school. “None of the above is functionally equivalent to a person not voting for a political office,” he said. Plus, Hasen added, the Constitution gives state legislatures broad latitude to design presidential ballots.