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Real Change Means Changing Our Elections to Office

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In a prior article, “2008: The Election All About "Change" , I wrote that “American governance is dominated by corporate power, which this election will not change.” A reader wrote: “So what is your recommendation for proper action?”

I suggest making a single procedural change to our elections, which now often decide little beyond the fate of the candidates’ personal ambitions, by adding a simple yet power ballot option to all elections to office.

The change is based on a fundamental legal principle: All legitimate consent requires the ability to withhold consent.

The change I suggest is adding a binding “None of the Above” voter consent ballot option to all elections to office, giving voters the ballot option to withhold their consent in elections to office, just as they can on ballot questions.

When voting on ballot questions, voters have the ability to withhold their consent by voting “NO”, which the courts have consistently upheld, setting aside countless attempts to present voters with such choices as “Plan A or Plan B”. For example, on a ballot question in December 1998 in Puerto Rico, voters originally could choose either current commonwealth status, independence, or statehood. A federal judge ruled voters needed to be able to withhold their consent to any plan and ordered "None of the Above" be place on the ballot. In the election, 50.2 percent of Puerto Rican voters chose "None of the Above", withholding their consent to all the plans offered.

However, in elections to office, voters are presented with choices of “Candidate A or Candidate B” and all too often just “Candidate A” but they are unable to withhold their consent when they consider all candidates for an office unacceptable. These “must-hire”, lesser evil elections are the foundation of a system whereby two major parties, through ballot access restrictions, control voters’ choices. In effect, except for ballot questions and local non partisan contests for office, all our elections are rigged.

While it is extremely unlikely our state legislatures, all controlled by the two major parties, would enact such a Voter Consent Law giving voters a "None of the Above" ballot option, a Voter Consent Law was introduced in Massacusettes in 2007. It was tabled without further action after one hearing. However, over 20 states have Initiative Petition in one form or another, whereby voters could enact a Voter Consent Law themselves. In addition, some courts may be open to the argument that our democracy depends on the consent of the governed and that all legitimate consent requires the ability to withhold consent, and be persuaded to order a binding “None of the Above” on the ballot for elections to office.

This may be a long shot, but I believe it can be done and plausibly answers the reader’s question: “So what is your recommendation for proper action?” Surely, we should make our elections more democratic before we can seriously expect elections to office to bring about changes voters want.

Among the reasons listed by Voters for None of the Above why having a binding “None of the Above” ballot option are:

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·         All legitimate consent requires the ability to withhold consent; "None of the Above" gives the voter the ballot option to withhold consent from an election to office, just as voters can cast a "No" vote on a ballot question.

·         Would end the "must hire" elections where voters are often forced to vote for the least unacceptable candidate, the all too familiar "lesser evil."

·         A candidate must obtain voter consent to be elected, even if running unopposed.

·         Voters would decide the fate of the political parties' choices, instead of the parties deciding the voters' choices.

·         It should reduce negative campaigning by encouraging candidates to campaign for their own candidacy rather than against their opponent's candidacy.

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·         Many voters and non voters, who now register their disapproval of all candidates for an office by not voting, could cast a meaningful vote.

·         Provides an effective alternative to the increasing voter practice of writing-in frivolous names, the so-called “Mickey Mouse” option.

·         The meaning of elections should become more clear, since voters would no longer be tempted to vote for a presumed losing candidate, with whom they really do not agree, as a protest vote.

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William H. White is Director of Voters for None of the Above

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I'm not sure how having a "None of the Ab... by Bill Samuel on Tuesday, Sep 9, 2008 at 6:07:05 PM
Dear Mr. Samuel, You raise difficult questions a... by William White on Tuesday, Sep 9, 2008 at 11:41:03 PM