“None of the Above” – Getting America Out of a Two Party Stalemate

August 31, 2011

By Terry Smiljanich:

It comes as no surprise that the latest polls show Congress’s approval rating at an all time low of 14%. If we disapprove of the job Congress is doing, why do we keep voting incumbents back into office, as we do year in and year out?

Our Two Party System

A big part of the problem with our system is the two party politics that have infected this country from almost its beginning. Come national election day, no matter what the issues are or what we think about them, we are always faced with the same three choices: vote for the Republican nominee, vote for the Democratic nominee, or stay home. This is the case despite the fact that the Constitution makes no mention of political parties, two or otherwise. Only our first President George Washington, however, was elected without an affiliation with one of two major parties.

Every now and then, a third party candidate makes an attempt to break the deadlock the two major parties have on our elections. In 1992, Ross Perot’s Reform Party campaign did well in early polls, but come election day he only garnered 19% of the popular vote, and zero electoral votes. Republicans and Democrats are quite happy with their monopoly on American politics, and impose as many barriers as they can to third party candidates, from onerous ballot access laws to debate rules that usually exclude third parties from participation.

It is probably a common phenomenon that American voters look at the two choices on the ballot, hold their noses, and vote for the “lesser of two evils.”

A Modest Proposal

There is, however, a way out of our self-inflicted predicament. Imagine if the next time you went into a voting booth to vote for your Representative, Senator or President you always had three choices: Republican, Democratic, or None of the Above. Instead of having to vote for one of two choices, neither of whom may be particularly palatable to you, you could in effect say: “Nope, I don’t like either one of you.”

How would this work? Who would win the election? In my system, if  “none of the above” got more votes than all of candidates, the parties would have to go back to the drawing board and come up with two new candidates. The election would be won by the first candidate to win more votes than the other candidate and “none of the above.” Finally, true freedom of choice.

Advantages of “None of the Above”

Under such a system of voting, certain advantages would accrue to the electorate. Currently, our two party system is a zero sum game. In other words, any vote Candidate A can take away from Candidate B comes into Candidate A’s camp. Thus, we have the endless stream of negative advertising we are all subjected to every election. Candidates don’t have to convince you to vote for them, just vote against that idiot in the grainy photograph who advocates socialism or fascism.

With “none of the above,” that won’t work as well. If Candidate A does not give you a good reason to vote FOR him or her, as opposed to Candidate B, you can always choose that third option – I don’t want either of you representing me. Give me a good reason why I should vote for you, not against the other guy. Negative ads from each of the two major party candidates will almost guarantee that “None of the above” would win.

Perhaps such a system will actually encourage more viable third parties, particularly centrist parties seeking to appeal to the large number of independent voters discouraged by decades of incompetent rule by Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Disadvantages

Obviously, such a voting system would be more expensive for each major party, since they would have to reconvene and come up with new candidates. In order to prevent an endless succession of “none of the above’s” there would have to be a limit on re-voting. Perhaps after two tries at coming up with better candidates, the election would go to the one candidate who got the most votes out of all the elections.

Also, this system would make election season longer if the voters are dissatisfied with the choices given to them by the two major parties. There would probably have to be limitations on the length of campaigns.

Such regulation of political campaigns is also problematic, in and of itself, and would probably not find approval under First Amendment grounds.

There is, of course, one other big disadvantage. It will never happen. The Republican and Democratic parties have a death grip on American politics. Their petty squabbles will continue. “If you don’t give me what I want, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

Oh well, it was a thought.

Perhaps a better solution is term limits for congressmen and a limited six year term for the President. That would allow our politicians to concentrate on doing some good and seeking solutions for America while they’re in office, instead of spending all of their time posturing and running for re-election. But that’s another column.