In the critically neglected 1996 action film “Executive Decision,” hero Kurt Russell finally confronts the terrorist leader who has taken over a 747 bound for Washington, D.C., and loaded with nerve gas. “Who are you?” the terrorist demands.
“I’m no one,” Russell replies. Yet “no one” ends up thwarting the evil plan and, of course, getting the girl.
Nevada’s version of “no one” — the line on the ballot that lets voters choose “none of these candidates” in statewide races — survived a legal challenge last week, and we’re all the better for it.
The Republican-funded lawsuit sought to kill “none” because votes for that option don’t count; if “none” wins, the highest individual vote-getter still takes office. As a result, the state was not counting certain votes while counting others.
Or at least that’s what the plaintiffs said; the reality was, some of them were concerned that votes for “none” would sap votes for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and they wanted to deny voters that option. (This is why the lawsuit was filed just five months before Election Day 2012, when “none” has been on Nevada’s ballot since 1975.) Shame on them.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t rule on the merits of the case, however, instead finding that none of the appellants had the legal right to sue.
There are those who think the “none” option is bad. Political commentator Jon Ralston criticized it on his Ralston Reports blog last week as “an asinine anachronism, one that only encourages mindless vitriol and serial checking-out by too many in the electorate.”
I tend to think the opposite: It’s a useful and unique tool for voters to send a very specific message, one that cannot be sent in any other way (including leaving your ballot blank, which a person can do for a number of different reasons).
But the message of “none” is unmistakable: I came to vote, I reviewed the list of candidates, I threw up a little bit in my mouth, and I refuse to be constrained by the nominees of the major and minor parties. Therefore, I declare that — what’s the phrase? — “none of these candidates” are to my liking, and if you want me to participate in the future, give me better choices.
The people who have really checked out never show up in the first place.
In fact, the lawsuit against “none” admits precisely this point: Republicans feared supporters of former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, dissatisfied with Romney, would select “none” instead of voting for a candidate who is not libertarian enough. (And a total of 5,770 people in Nevada did choose “none” rather than an actual person.)
Still, it might be fun if Nevada decided to really stand behind “none” as more than just a vehicle for engaged protest. We could do that by changing the law to say that if “none” ever wins a race (it has happened a couple of times), then the seat is declared vacant and must be filled in the manner prescribed by law. (That’s either an appointment or a new election. In either case, nobody who ran and lost to “none” should be eligible to run again or be appointed to the post.)
That would give Nevada a unique X-factor in elections, because ours is the only state in the union that features “none” on its ballot, and then only for statewide races. (If we wanted to be really wicked, we’d extend the “none” option to local races, where small turnout and off-year contests could see plenty of real people lose to the phantom option.)
In any case, “none” will live on, stalking those candidates who have reason to fear that, when asked who they want to represent them in Carson City, Washington, D.C., or City Hall, voters will reply, “no one.”
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.