An American Editor

June 3, 2010

None of the Below: An Election Blessing

I live in the most politically dysfunctional state in America — New York. In my state, there is really only one truism: if it is good for the citizens, the legislature will not enact it; if it is good for the politicians, they will.

As the November elections get closer, I become more irate with the political process. With a lot of hoopla and expectations, Andrew Cuomo has been nominated for governor. So far, he has had exactly one good, solid idea — call a constitutional convention and rewrite New York’s anti-citizen constitution. Now if Rick Lazio, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, would join this call, there might be hope.

Of course, this was tried in the 1960s and failed — the politicians and special interests convinced the citizens to vote no on the proposed reforms, and like good sheep, we did. Perhaps this time would be different — assuming the politicians muster the courage to call for a convention and the delegates are ordinary citizens not politicians.

There is one major reform I would like to see: the “none-of-the-below” ballot option. I am tired of professional politicians, people whose only interest is in preserving their own jobs regardless of the cost to those whom they purportedly represent. I’m even more tired of New York’s faux part-time legislature that receives more than full-time pay. Consequently, I propose a new election system.

My proposal would begin, as is done today, with each political party nominating its candidate for a political office. The ballot would list each party-nominated candidate and affiliation but at the very top of the ballot would be the option — in extralarge letters — NONE OF THE BELOW.

Now here’s where it gets good — at least good for the citizens. If “None of the Below” gets the most votes — even if it is just a plurality — “None of the Below” wins. The consequence is that none of the party-named candidates who were on the ballot can be on the ballot again in this election cycle.

How do we get new candidates? If the election is for a county-level office or lower, anyone, regardless of political affiliation or independent status can be self-nominated by a petition signed by 3% of the county’s population (if it is a city, town, or village office, it would be by 3% of the city, town, or village’s population). A candidate for an office at a level higher than the county level, would need signatures equalling 1% of the population that the particular office covered; for example, if it is a statewide office like governor, 1% of the state’s population would have to endorse the candidate. If it was a congressional district, it would be 1% of the population of that district.

A petition-nominated candidate would have to declare any party affiliation (if the candidate is a party member) or list him- or herself as independent (nonaffiliated). The political parties would not be permitted to run a party-nominated or party-endorsed candidate — the parties had their exclusive run and lost to “None of the Below.”

To move things along, a special website would be created where potential candidates could list themselves and where people willing to “sign” their petition would go to sign it. There would be no door-to-door or street corner petitions to sign; it would all be done electronically and petition signers would be permitted to sign only one petition for a particular office. The nomination process would be open for 7 days.

Once the nomination process closed, an electronic ballot would be created within 3 days and the first-round vote held online within 30 days after that. Candidates would have 30 days to campaign. Unless a single candidate received at least 50.1% of the votes cast in the first round, all candidates would be removed from the ballot except the top 2 candidates who would face each other in a runoff. Again, the balloting would occur 30 days from the first-round balloting, thus limiting the final 2 candidates to 30 days of campaigning.

The winner of this second-round vote would be elected to office.

The advantage to this system is that it would empower the citizens and decrease the power of special interest groups, including self-serving politicians. The established parties and the special interest groups would have the first crack at electing a candidate, but if they fail, the general citizenry takes over. With the uncertainty as to who would make it to the final round, and the limited campaign time, it would be difficult for the special interests to muster their forces behind a particular candidate — not impossible, just difficult. Consequently, their influence would be reduced.

More importantly, it would also give independents and disaffected party members an opportunity to nominate candidates who don’t owe their success to the political parties — candidates who, hopefully, would be more responsive to constituent needs than to special interest needs. And it would make it easier for unhappy citizens to remove office holders. Now it is almost impossible when one party renominates the incumbent and the other party has difficulty finding a good party member to run against the incumbent.

This plan also has the bonus that once a candidate is rejected, the candidate doesn’t get an immediate second chance. The citizens rejected the candidate once, which should be sufficient. It is this feature that I particularly like, because it will mean that an incumbent who wants to be reelected will need to pay less attention to special interest groups and more to constituents to strengthen his or her chances of getting elected on the first ballot.

It seems to me that this would be a good way to flush the dysfunction and special interests out of New York’s politics and reempower the citizens. Perhaps New York would become a good place to live. I know the plan has its problems and needs refinement, but even if enacted as outlined here, it has to be better than what New Yorkers currently suffer with.

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