For almost 40 years, Nevada voters had the right to affirmatively vote for the metaphorical equivalent of an ’empty chair’ and not the ’empty suit’ on their ballots “for any statewide office or for President and Vice President of the United States.”
But last week, thanks to a federal district court judge, that right has been invalidated. In the figurative equivalent of what a Vietnam-era U.S. major said about it being “necessary to destroy the village to save it,” a federal district court in Reno, NV has implausibly disenfranchised voters in order to protect voters from disenfranchisement.
“None of these candidates.”
U.S. Nevada District Court Judge Robert C. Jones tossed out America’s first and only so-called ‘Voter Consent’ law, a 36-year old Nevada statute enacted in 1976 — called quirky elsewhere but that as a former resident, I wholeheartedly invoked with approval. The statute permitted Nevadans to willingly and knowingly register their opposition to all candidates on a ballot for statewide or national office by voting for “None of these candidates.”
But with the endless stream of political knuckle-heads in Arizona and elsewhere, the better question is ‘why isn’t such a law universal?’
And since write-in candidates aren’t generally allowed in Nevada, those voters unhappy with their electoral choices won’t even have the futile if nevertheless satisfying option of writing in “Doofus,” “Mickey Mouse” or “Dumbshit” on their ballots.
The lawsuit was brought against NRS 293.269 by 11 plaintiffs, including several who are electors for Mitt Romney and one who is also a secretary of the state GOP. They alleged that the Nevada statute “disenfranchised people who select “None of these candidates” by literally ignoring their votes.”
And while the plaintiffs included a political Independent and a Democrat, longtime Nevada political guru Jon Ralston nevertheless called the litigation “unquestionably a Republican effort.” Moreover, according to pundit Steve Sebelius, the state GOP brought the suit because of their fear that Ron Paul supporters “would use “none of these candidates” to signal their dissatisfaction with presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.
A cynical solution in search of a problem.
So after almost 4 unruffled decades, what was the solution in search of a problem? Why, to invalidate the entire statute. It was the argument found persuasive by Judge Jones, a Republican appointee (George W. Bush, 2003) and a fellow classmate of Mitt Romney (Brigham Young University, Class of ’71). The jurist’s published decision, however, won’t be available until next month.
At another level, it’s also clear that in an anticipated close election between Romney and Obama, “none of these candidates” might also be outcome-determinative. Hardly surprising since as also noted in the Complaint, the statute has previously played a spoiler role, including “in the 1998 Senate race, the 8,125 votes for None of These Candidates easily outdistanced the 395-vote margin between Harry Reid and John Ensign, allowing Mr. Reid to be re-elected.”
An ironical argument.
The biggest irony of all, however, was that at least in this ‘alternative universe’ of inversely being against something before being for it  — the apparently winning argument brought by the plaintiffs relied on something the Grand Old Party has been trying to constrain if not entirely overturn for sometime — the Voting Rights Act of 1965, especially Section 5.
Indeed, most recently, the Voting Rights Act has been the means used by the U.S. Justice Department and other plaintiffs to block Voter ID Laws based on racial impact as well as laws found to intentionally discriminate against minority voters in drawing up electoral district maps. Also see, for example, “Alabama Seeks Court OK for Redistricting, Bypasses DOJ.”
Then again, stranger things will happen than Nevada’s GOP using the Voting Rights Act to noogie the state’s voters. Take, for instance, — a too tiny Tom Cruise cast as 6’5″ Jack Reacher or Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair.
Photo Credits: “Project 365 #57: 260209 Something is Missing…” by Pete, comedy_nose at Flicker via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution; “empty suit,” by Carson Monetti, cmonetti, at Flickr via Creative Commons-licensed content for noncommercial use requiring attribution and share alike distribution;”IMG_0121,” by Mike Kalasnik, daysofthundr46, at Flickr via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution and share alike distribution.