In a high stakes election that could help determine the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate, attention in Nevada is turning this week to one option on the ballot with no shot of winning: None of these candidates.
A lawsuit filed in federal court in June and financed by the Republican National Committee seeks an injunction to boot the state's unique voter option from the Nov. 6 ballot. Since 1976, every election ballot for statewide races, including president and U.S. Senate, gives voters the option to select "none of these candidates."
Nevada is the only state to offer the quirky option. It was a way to combat voter apathy after the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon and give them a chance to register their disdain for their choices.
While the law says "none" can't win — even if it receives the most votes — it could play spoiler in a close race.
"None" has never bested named candidates in a general election, though it's come out on top in a few primary contests. In the 1998 U.S. Senate race, however, Democrat Harry Reid won re-election by 428 votes over then-GOP Rep. John Ensign. More than 8,000 voters rejected both men and opted to vote for "none."
That's a scenario the option's challengers — a mix of Republicans, Democrats and independents — don't want to see this year.
The contest between President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney promises to be close, as does the one between GOP U.S. Sen. Dean Heller and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Shelley Berkley.
Conventional thinking suggests voters who select "none" may be more likely to favor a challenger, such as Romney, if the option wasn't available.
In their lawsuit against Secretary of State Ross Miller, opponents argue that because "none" doesn't count in the tally to determine a victor, voters — whether they opt for "none" or a candidate who breathes — are disenfranchised.
The attorney general's office, representing Miller, argues the suit should be dismissed. They say voters "always have the right to not vote" for listed candidates, and voting for "none" is essentially no different than skipping a particular race on a ballot altogether.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Wednesday.
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