The Issues

Issue #1

NOTA as a ballot choice, nation-wide

What exactly are we suggesting?

Election ballots, whether physical or electronic, should include a "none of the above" option that allows full participation in the election while registering disapproval of the candidates available. In addition, election results must be reported with the inclusion of total NOTA votes.

Scope. At a basic level, the NOTA option should be available in all elections for state-wide or federal offices (e.g. governor/lieutenant governor, President, United States senator, member of the United States House of Representatives). Having the NOTA option available for other elections (e.g. state representative, mayor, etc.) may be desirable, but its practicality depends on how the policy is implemented.

Impact. NOTA proposals vary based what happens if the NOTA category receives a plurality of votes. In the "light" approach to NOTA, the results are reported with NOTA's victory highlighted, but the next highest human vote-getter takes office. In the "harder" version, a NOTA plurality triggers a new election or other consequences. For example, if a political party receives fewer votes than NOTA, it may find that it does not receive automatic ballot access in future elections. Harder versions may be more difficult to pass into law since they will directly impact the power of existing office holders. From a policy position, it might also be wise to limit the number of instances where new elections are triggered by a NOTA victory. Elections have a direct and negative impact on state and local budgets, unlike other consequences.

What challenges does this policy face?

With only a few exceptions, states are in control of elections. As a result there's no easy way to establish a national standard about adding "none of the above" to ballots. Being successful will require either coordinated grassroots action across the states or some level of extraordinary action at the national level.

"None of the above" voting also directly challenges the power of the two major political parties. To be successful, we will need a strong and sustained grassroots lobbying effort to push for change when the political establishment begins dragging its heels.

How could states implement this policy?

  1. Through constitutions. One option for implementing NOTA voting is to amend state constitutions. In most states, this process is much easier than amending the federal constitution. Unfortunately, when amending a constitution becomes easier, it also means that the constitution offers a lot less protection.
  2. Through laws about ballots. Nevada's election law (NRS 293.269) requires that ballots for statewide offices include a separate line for "none of these candidates." Other states could follow suit, providing an option that voters can see on their ballots and which will register an official protest vote.
  3. Through vote counting. An actual ballot entry for "none of the above" would be the ideal choice. Much of the same effect can be achieved, though, by altering laws about vote counting. If every vote that could be reasonably interpreted as a vote for "none of the above" (e.g. nobody, no one, none of these, etc.) were counted and reported as such, it would still be possible to measure the number of protest votes in an election.

Why is this policy a good idea?

There are many reasons why elections in the United States need a "none of the above" option. We say that we believe in "free, fair, and open" elections. While this doesn't guarantee that the election result will be exactly what you want, it does mean you have the right to cast a vote of your choosing. Your vote serves as an official record of your opinion. And right now, the only opinion you're not allowed to have is "none of the above."

"None of the above" voters often decide to stay home instead of voting on election day. Others encourage this and suggest that it's the way you show political disapproval in our country. This is both misguided and politically offensive. Non-voting happens for many reasons—political apathy, for example. But dissatisfaction is NOT apathy. It may in fact be the exact opposite. To suggest that dissatisfied voters should stay home and not vote hides the voice of protest. It is also tantamount to disenfranchisement.

Finally, adding a NOTA option to ballots can fill an important role in maintaining a peaceful political order. At the moment, dissatisfaction is forced out of the regular political process. It hides in the shadows, uncounted and unrecognized, masquerading as non-voting or as a vote for a "lesser of two evils" candidate. Or maybe it doesn't hide at all. Instead it boils up in protest and the potential for violence. Providing a NOTA option can't cure unrest, but it can provide official recognition for dissatisfaction. And when dissent has been made visible, the political establishment will be unable to deny its existence.

How can we pursue this policy?

  1. The Legislative Approach. Use the NOTA organization to coordinate a grassroots campaign to lobby state governments. At the same time, encourage states to adopt NOTA legislation by making certain federal funds conditional on states adopting pro-NOTA policies (an approach upheld by the Supreme Court in South Dakota v Dole, 1987).
  2. The Constitutional Approach. A nation-wide policy on adding NOTA to ballots could be achieved through a constitutional amendment. Given the requirements of the amendment process, this option would be far more difficult to implement than the legislative approach.
  3. The Judicial Approach. Previous social movements have achieved national policy changes through the court system. There's no clearly established argument for challenging election laws that fail to include NOTA options. However, the Supreme Court at least tacitly approved of NOTA when it failed to a take a case that challenged Nevada's "None of these Candidates" law. With the right case and a carefully crafted set of legal arguments, it may be possible to establish that the right to vote must necessarily include the right to cast a disapproval vote.

Other Issues

Our campaign is focused on 1) promoting "none of the above" voting as a national policy; and 2) registering collective disapproval of the candidates for president in the 2016 election.

While campaigns can focus on single issues, administrations cannot. Information and positions on additional issues may become available if NOTA supporters request it.