My first reaction when learning of a bill to put “none of the above” on the ballot in Minnesota elections was that the sponsor was probably a Republican. My second was that some Democrats, if given half a chance, will fall for what is a relatively predictable conservative trap.
State Senator Branden Petersen is indeed a Republican. His proposal provides that if “none of the above” gets the most votes in an election, the individual candidates with fewer votes are all out and a new election with new candidates must be conducted.
I suspected the sponsor was a Republican because the bill provides a way to dilute the anti-Republican vote. Despite the fact that more Americans self-identify as Democrats, Republicans have been doing better in recent elections. There are a number of reasons this is happening – one is that Democrats have failed to unify behind candidates or proposals.
Social liberals, populists, and left-leaning libertarians largely comprise the Democratic party base. There is much disagreement among these groups – even within them. There are gay marriage and abortion rights activists who aren’t much interested in the environment or tax policy. There are heartland populists whose first priority is returning wealth and power from Wall Street to Main Street. There are home-schooling, anti-vaxx, potheads who just want to get high in peace. The only people these disparate folks despise more than each other are Republicans.
If you’re a left-leaning libertarian in Minnesota and your choice is between a capital gains tax-cutting, warmongering, anti-legalization Republican or a populist Democrat, you be inclined to vote for the Dem. Being left-leaning, you’re less of an anti-taxer and more of a marijuana endorser.
But what if your choice includes “none of the above”. Heck, you hate the Republican but you don’t much care for the Democrat either. You’re likely to vote for “none of the above”. Such voters mirror the Ralph Nader folks who put W in the White House back in 2000.
Let’s take a race where an anti-abortion, corporatist, militarist Republican is supported by 40% of the electorate in a centrist Congressional district. Befitting the district’s character, a Hillary Clinton-type candidate wins the Democratic primary over a progressive college professor 60-40. Deeply disappointed, half of the professor’s supporters decide it doesn’t really matter whether the corporadem or the corporacon wins. They vote for none of the above. The militarist Republican wins.
If you read the paper much, you’ll realize there’s much less heterodoxy within Republican ranks. In the wake of unexpected losses in 2012 Senate races, they moderated their message but not their hard-line positions. Republican candidates have less to fear from disgruntled conservatives than from Democrats and independents energized by an attractive newcomer like Obama was in 2008.
Encouraging unhappy voters to show their displeasure with a slate of candidates by offering them “none of the above” makes it more likely that a Republican, opposed by most voters in any given district, will sneak in with a plurality of votes.