Nevada's "None of These Candidates" Option Struck Down

CARSON CITY, NV - Nevada voters may have one fewer choice this November.

A federal judge has ruled the state's "None of these Candidates" option unconstitutional and ordered it off the ballot.

If the ruling stands, it removes an option Nevada voters have had exclusively since 1976.

The idea was born in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

The break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters during the 1972 campaign and the resulting investigations toppled a president and soured the public on politicians in general.

Longtime Sparks legislator Don Mello says he discovered just how deep that distaste went when he was campaigning for reelection two years later.

People would tell him they were willing to vote for him, but they were sitting this election out.

"I was getting it about every third house, says Mello. "So, I said let me see if I can figure out some way of getting you to go back to the polls and vote."

His solution: give the voter a protest vote. If they didn't like the choice b before them, they could vote for none of these candidates. It wouldn't elect anyone. but it would register their disapproval.

His colleagues in the legislature wanted no part of the original bill which would have applied to all races, but had less of a problem applying it to others.

The final bill restricted the option to statewide races only.

The public took to it. Others didn't, but Mello says those who tired to remove it like long term State Senator Lawrence Jacobsen soon regretted it.

Over the years, he argues. voters have used it responsibly and sparingly, embarrassing a few here and there.

'it tells the candidate something too," says Mello, "that they'd better change their ways if they want to stay in office."

Still it has stood until this year.

Fearful the option might affect a close presidential race this year, the Republican party sued to have it struck down arguing it disenfranchised voters.

Wednesday Judge Robert Jones agreed, saying since "none" could never win, it was an invalid vote and therefore unconstitutional.

Mello disagrees.

"It hurts no one. Talking about disenfranchising the voter? That's what he's trying to do by telling them they're not allowed to go to the polls and vote none of the above. Why we're so concerned with knowing what the electorate feels is beyond me."

Judge Jones is a 2003 Bush administration appointee, a detail not lost on the former Democratic office holder who sees the ruling as a continuation of Republican efforts to suppress the votes of some by stricter voter ID requirements.

"If the Republican party doesn't like it, they ought to run better candidates."

Beyond the issues involved, the timing of the ruling creates some logistical problems for state and local officials.

Without commenting on the merits of the ruling, Secretary of State Ross Miller says it's his duty to mount an appeal which he promises will be immediate and expedited.

Meanwhile deadlines for finalizing ballots loom and county officials across the state face the task of a last minute change.

There's a hard-and-fast September 20 deadline for finalizing ballots and mailing them to overseas voters.

Washoe Voter Registrar Dan Burk says making the change can still be done, but it isn't as easy as it sounds and, he adds, the clock is ticking.

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