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Voters deserve chance to choose ‘None’ over inferior candidates

My right to choose is once again being threatened, and I’m hoping a federal judge will protect me and others like me.

We choose to vote for “None of These Candidates.”

Republicans hoping to boost the chances of Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Sen. Dean Heller argue that Nevada’s unique voting option disenfranchises voters.

Not so. People choose to vote for “None.” Nobody forces them.

The GOP attorneys who want this option removed from this fall’s ballots want to disenfranchise those of us sending messages of protest. We’re commenting on the caliber of our choices and, rather than just skip a race and not vote, we want to make sure that message is clear.

No judge has been assigned, and no date has been set to hear the lawsuit, filed June 8 against Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, but it will have to be decided fairly soon because ballots must be printed with or without that option.

The plaintiffs are a mix of Democrats, Republicans, nonpartisans and Greens, who say the “None” choice makes their vote count for less.

Actually, it makes their vote count for more because under the Nevada law passed in 1976, “None” cannot win. The human with the most votes wins.

The first-named plaintiff, Wendy Townley, is a Las Vegas Democrat who believes if “None” is not an option in statewide races, people will vote for one of the other candidates.

Because another protest option is to skip the race, that logic doesn’t hold up.

The usually respected former County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury joined in the lawsuit, arguing that a vote for Romney is essentially a vote for Woodbury, who was chosen to be one of the presidential electors; so he has a “substantial, direct and personal interest” in seeing “None” removed.

So, Bruce, that trumps my right to protest?

“None” voters aren’t the ones who don’t vote. We go to the effort and make our feelings known in specific races. The option is only available in statewide races; otherwise I would use it more.

The attorneys opposing “None” argue it’s unconstitutional and point to the few times “None” was the top vote-getter in primaries.

What they don’t say is that “None” defeated a couple of minor candidates in primaries where they didn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning in the general election anyway.

This lawsuit is really about Republicans hoping that voters who vote choosing the lesser of two evils will vote for Romney and Heller if “None” isn’t on the ballot. Striking “None” is a political ploy to help their guys.

“None” is a popular voting selection. In 1998, Republican John Ensign lost to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid by 428 votes. “None” pulled 8,125 votes.

Would Ensign have won without the competition from “None?” It’s impossible to tell. But obviously the Republicans believe it might make a difference in 2012.

David Damore, associate professor of political science at UNLV, studied the “None” option and believes it’s a “less ambiguous signal of discontent.”

In an article for Political Research Quarterly, he and his co-authors predicted abolishing “None” could result in more people voting for minor parties, leaving a misunderstanding that minor parties are more popular than they really are.

His research showed that in 219 races between 1976 and 2010, nearly 11 percent of the votes cast in statewide races were for “None.” It’s used more in primaries than in general elections, and it’s growing slightly in popularity.

Damore also found that as turnout increases, the rate of “None” votes decreases.

In my view, this is a frivolous lawsuit that seeks to gain a political advantage by encroaching on protest rights.

Let’s hope the federal judge who ends up with this case sees it the same way and comes to the defense of “None.”

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison

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