THE BLOG
09/04/2010 01:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reinvigorate democracy - A Meaningful "None Of The Above" Voting Option

The best way to reinvigorate American democracy is a "None Of The Above" voting option laden with consequences. Americans seem to be increasingly dissatisfied with their political choices. But there has been very little change in the character, style and identity of those running for public office. Look, it's the new sheriff wannabe - just like the old sheriff. Amazing, isn't it, how quickly the "change" candidate becomes the pinstripe portrait of establishment protection once elected. Candidates from the left, once in office, veer to the center and often keep going until they become indistinguishable from the conservatives they ran against. Candidates from the libertarian right, once they are elected, continue funding the very federal programs they so despised as outsiders. And where does that leave the voters, left and right? Unhappy, angry and always setup to vote for the next "change" candidate who will inevitably turn out to be just like the rest. Do we ever rid ourselves of the old sheriff? How can dissatisfied voters register their discontent in a meaningful way? Right now they can't. Same old, same old. The winner in every election? Entrenched power.

In Congressional districts and Senate races across the nation incumbents run for reelection thinking they have a job for life - hoping they have a job for life - doing everything within their power to secure that lifetime job. Usually their challengers are just more of the same looking for exactly the same thing. If they ever existed, there are no more citizen-office holders. American politics is a profession. It's not a calling. It's not a public service. No one is taking time from their "regular life" to serve the public interest in government - and then return to their "regular life" when their term is over. Instead we are besieged by pros, moving from one office to another, striving to reach their highest level of election. They never see their term as being over. When they look to the future the only vision they have is of their successful reelection or perhaps some higher elected office.

Lately it's been the Republicans who have faced the most internal insurgents. Yet, despite the publicity, the so-called Tea Party candidates have really had a very limited success in deposing rank-and-file Republican incumbents. And as yet none of these Tea Party people who have been victors in GOP primaries have won a general election. If the Tea Party is the most remarkable revolutionary change we're going to see in Republican candidates that doesn't say much for revolutionary change.

Among Democrats there's been even less upheaval within the ranks of candidates for the House and Senate. If Rep. Joe Sestak beating out turncoat Sen. Arlen Specter is the outside edge of Democratic insurgency, what sort of real change can that be for America's current majority party?

The only state currently offering a "None Of The Above" option is Nevada. But to what end? Yes, they count the NOTA votes, but they don't really matter since the named candidate with the most votes is the winner in Nevada even if "None Of The Above" is the leading voter getter. Sort of like - "Heads I win, tails you lose." In Europe, Greece has a NOTA option and France, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland have a "blank vote" option. These too are all just protests, however, none having the power to halt the actual candidates from taking office.

We should take the lead here in the United States. In all elections for federal office there should be a "None Of The Above" option with real consequences. For example, if NOTA wins an election, getting more votes than the Democratic or Republican parties or any other candidate, all parties with ballot lines would have one week to nominate a new, different candidate and a special election would be held within 30 days. A party without a new nominee would lose its ballot line. Should NOTA win again, the process repeats and repeats until some political party finds a candidate who can garner enough popular support to beat "Nobody."

The pressure on all parties would be tremendous. If they failed to nominate candidates the public could really support they would be forced to find new ones or surrender their automatic ballot line. Put up or shut up. Right now some polls show that the voters in Nevada don't want either the Republican challenger or the current Democratic senator. What other choice do they have? Imagine who would be the Nevada nominees if NOTA could force a change. We just might be done with the tired, old, lifetime office-holders and the occasional far-out, crazy challenger everyone knows can't handle the office. A meaningful "None Of The Above" voting option might push the political parties toward sending up qualified people looking to serve the public interest instead of self-aggrandizing job-seekers in search of lifetime luxury feeding at the public troth.