No one would argue whether the right to vote is a cornerstone of democracy. Or whether the U.S. is dominated by a two-party system -- parties that will award critical delegates in the coming weeks and begin uniting behind their 2016 nominees. Assuming the forecasting data holds, Americans may soon face choosing between billionaire businessman, Donald Trump, and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton for their next President.
The trouble is, both have issues.
Trump has never worked in government, so his "take no prisoners" approach isn't conducive to a system that limits the authority of elected officials. On the other hand, even with experience, Clinton's record as an elected official is so poor it has made having no record at all look reasonable. And we haven't even touched the surface of Clinton's email debacle or foundation, or paid speeches to big financial institutions, or Trump's undisclosed tax returns, when it comes to the 2016 election, CNBC may have gotten it right when they said this is "The election no one wants." Which sounds tame compared to The National Review, which claims America will decide based on which candidate represents the "bigger disaster."
Which raises the million dollar question: when it comes to important elections, is it unpatriotic to abstain?
Recently on The Costa Report, five-time presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, offered two alternatives to a conundrum many Americans will face in November. First, Nader encourages unpersuaded voters to "exert an act of conscience" by writing in the name of the candidate they support. "I would not become a tactical voter. I would write in my preferred candidate," explained Nader.
Sounds simple. But is it?
Well for starters, it won't work in every state. Hawaii, Nevada, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and many others don't allow write-ins. And other states are quickly moving to remove this option. So, that's the first problem.
Then there's the second issue: even if a voter has that option, do write-ins ever work?
The short answer is yes, but not often . . .
In 1954, a write-in campaign worked for South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond. He garnered 63 percent of the votes against opponent, Edgar Brown. Ohio Congressman, Charlie Wilson, was also a victorious write-in, as were Congressmen Joe Skeen, Dale Afford and Charles Curry. And write-ins have made a difference in previous presidential primaries. From Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt and Thomas Dewey to Taft, Eisenhower, Nixon and Kennedy -- write-in votes decided who took the primaries.
Even so, a write-in candidate hasn't won an election in the U.S. in decades. So while Nader urges voters to take the moral high ground, it's a long shot at best -- a long shot opponents say is the equivalent of "throwing your vote away." And who wants to register, take time off of work, stand in line, and write in a name that won't make any difference?
That said, write-in opponents would find it difficult to argue with Nader's second solution. He urges the government to add a simple "none of the above" option for voters who want to exercise their right to vote, but not for the available candidates. The way this would work is, if "none of the above" received more votes than the ballot candidates, the election would become void and a new election held. Think of it as a "reset" option. Everyone starts over -- including a new field of hopefuls.
Sounds good, but has it been tried?
In a bold move, in 1976 Nevada added a "None of These Candidates" option to their ballots. But according to Nader, they didn't go far enough. The option is nonbinding. So even if "None of These Candidates" secures the highest number of votes, the candidate who receives the second highest wins office. Sixteen years ago voters in California tried to get a stronger measure put through. But, fearing government gridlock, the initiative was defeated in a general election. Seems Californians would rather elect a placeholder than suffer through a second round of nonstop commercials, debates, fundraisers and stump speeches...
When it comes to the 2016 Presidential election, how would the "none of the above" option work?
Since there is no legal provision for the term of a sitting President to be extended, it would mean the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, would temporarily take custody of the Executive Office until a second election could be held. It would also mean that all of the prior fund raising, advertising, campaigning, and backroom dealings would become worthless. Big political backers would lose their campaign "investments" overnight. We'd face starting over with a candidate that failed to inspire the majority of U.S. voters the first time around, or backing a new candidate that citizens really want. Following that logic, over time, the two political parties would begin nominating candidates who had greater broad-based appeal. After all, their chief opponent would no longer be the opposing party's nominee. The bigger challenge would be to beat "none of the above." In short, to turn the tide of disenchanted voters.
Given a choice between abstaining, voting for a candidate we don't support or writing one in who can't win, is there any doubt Americans would choose Nader's "none of the above" option? Any doubt the two parties would offer better options than a billionaire with no political acumen and a woman who is accused of so much wrong doing that -- even if only five percent of it is true -- should she be serving time? Any doubt more voters would show up at the polls to perform their patriotic duty? Here Nader has the final word: "When people know that their vote matters, they are going to be more motivated to turn out."