Saturday, March 06, 2010

Why not vote for 'none of the above?'

Author's Note: This was published in today's (March 6, 2010) edition of the Dallas Morning News on its Viewpoints page.
There is a plotline to an old Richard Pryor movie, the seventh remake version of the 1902 novel, "Brewster’s Millions." In the 1985 version, Pryor is an old minor league pitcher (Montgomery Brewster) who must spend $30 million in 30 days and have no tangible assets when the clock strikes 12. For his efforts, he will inherit $300 million from a long-lost eccentric millionaire relative.

Along with such ingenious moves (such as buying a priceless stamp worth millions and then using it to actually mail a letter), Brewster decides to run a campaign to be mayor of New York City. He urges all voters to simply vote for “none of the above” in protest over the other two seemingly corrupt challengers.
As the contrived plot weaves its way through, one of the threads finds none of the human candidates winning; instead “none of the above” emerges in the top spot, sending a powerful message.
As a registered voter, I wish most campaigns would be half as entertaining as a Richard Pryor movie. Instead, as the primary races that came to a head this week show, voters are often saddled with inane commercials, the same tired rhetoric filled with the code words and acerbic barbs, and a complete lack of cogent ideas about how to govern.
While there are some minor party representatives on the November ballots, this state and country is - for better and far worse — a two-party political system. Actually, in many places, it’s a one-party system (especially when one of the major parties refuses, or is unable, to field a suitable slate of candidates).
In Texas, voters never have full participation in choosing its representatives because the primary system forces an automatic political division. Often, as is the case for state representative race in Collin County, only Republicans will choose a voice in Austin for the rest of us. In November, only one name (a Republican’s) will appear, and the outcome is a foregone conclusion.
But it wouldn’t be so if there was an alternate choice on the ballot. Why not be able to vote for “none of the above”?
That might express, in a more accurate sense, the will of the people. If voters want someone other than what is shown them, maybe they should have the final word. If you don’t want an octogenarian going to Congress for the umpteenth time, but find the other choices to be completely unsatisfactory, why shouldn’t you tell the political establishment “none of the above”? If no one represents your viewpoints, why can’t you push back with “none of the above”?
It might force the parties to field better candidates and allow for better representation in the various legislatures, city halls, school boards and courthouses. Critics might claim that such a voter option would result in stymied government and a less-than-effective means to exercise democracy. I would counter with one question: Is it really working that well right now?
With the overriding influence of Montgomery Brewster-like money in the most meager of contests (and with the poisoning potential for even more monetary participation from corporations), we don’t always seem to get the “best” and the “brightest” to be our advocates. The average person needs someone, or in this case, something to grasp in this democratic process of ours.
“None of the above” would be a start, and it would add a new level of accountability to the system.
Now, that would be a welcome storyline.