[Image courtesy of janeheller]
It’s a tricky question that usually arises in close elections: one candidate leads another by a narrow margin, but there are a number of ballots with no choice – enough to tip the outcome. What does that mean? Did voters knowingly skip the race? Were they confused by the design of the ballot? Did the machine malfunction?
In Florida, where these questions have emerged in a few high-profile cases, election officials are mulling whether to ask the Legislature to add a “no selection made” option to state ballots. The Naples News has more:
With thousands of voters skipping over races on last month’s primary election ballot, some political watchers are privately musing whether it’s time to just put a “none of the above” option on Florida ballots.
In fact, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho says election officials have long kicked around the idea of whether to add a bubble for “no selection made.”
Currently, Nevada is the only state that offers voters a similar (non-) choice:
The only state that offers a “none of these candidates” option is Nevada, where it first appeared on the 1976 ballot.
It applies to presidential and statewide races only and is nonbinding: If “none” gets the most votes, the second-highest vote-getter wins.
Though no general election candidate has yet lost to the “none” option, it has played the spoiler in some races.
Last year, the option survived a Republican-backed challenge of its constitutionality when a federal appeals court dismissed the case.
The Florida suggestion is for a “no selection made” as opposed to “none of the above” option, as the latter is seen as an opportunity for a political protest about existing choices – a spirit that isn’t popular with policymakers and one Sunshine State officials don’t want to promote.
Still, support for the idea isn’t unanimous:
Political scientists have known that some voters simply pass voting on “down-ballot” races, such as for judgeships and school board seats, when they don’t know the candidates and don’t care about the outcome.
And some elections officials say a “none” option is superfluous because the right to choose includes the right not to choose …
Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer J. Edwards told the Scripps-Tribune Capital Bureau she’s willing to consider anything that’s “more convenient for the voters.”
But Deborah Clark, supervisor of elections for Pinellas County, doesn’t like the idea.
“I do not think that adding a ‘no selection made’ or ‘none of the above’ option would add any value to the voting process unless voters were required to make a selection in every contest, and I do not support that,” Clark said in an email.
“I feel that voters have the right to vote in the contests they choose and skip the contests in which they do not wish to vote,” she said.
The Election Center’s Doug Lewis is also skeptical about the impact of a “no selection made” option, noting “some voters may also skip that choice as well.”
Still, it’s worth considering … if nothing else, it would be possible to say for sure that voters using the “no selection made” option saw the contest and made a decision not to make a choice. Whether enough of them would do so – and, more importantly, if that would give us any meaningful clues about how well (or not) ballots and voting technology are designed – is still an open question.