clear
Sunday May 3rd, 2015 8:01AM

Judge strikes down Nevada's 'none' voting option

By The Associated Press
RENO, Nev. - A quirky Nevada law that Republicans feared could siphon votes from a disgruntled electorate and sway the outcome of close presidential and U.S. Senate races in the state was struck down Wednesday by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Robert Jones said the state's decades-old ballot alternative of "none of the above" was unconstitutional because votes for "none" don't count in the final tallies that determine winners.

The ruling came at the end of a lively hearing where the judge challenged both sides in the legal arguments with hypothetical questions and ramifications of possible rulings he was considering.

In the end, he struck the option down altogether for both federal and statewide races, and refused to grant a stay while his decision is appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Secretary of State Ross Miller said his office would pursue "an immediate and expedited appeal to protect the long-standing public interest of the `none of these candidates' option."

A federal lawsuit filed in June and bankrolled by the Republican National Committee argued Nevada's unique voter option, which has appeared on every election ballot for statewide races since 1976, disenfranchises voters because it's a perpetual loser. Under state law, even if "none" receives the most votes, it doesn't win. Victory is reserved for people, though "none" before has played a role in determining the winner in some high-profile races.

"We're glad we were successful in our efforts to bring clarity to the Nevada presidential election ballot," the RNC said in a statement when asked for comment.

Deputy Attorney General Kevin Benson, representing the secretary of state, argued voters "always have the right to not vote" for listed candidates, and that voting for "none" is essentially no different than skipping a particular race on a ballot altogether or not voting at all.

"You're free to stay home on the couch," he said, arguing that such non-votes don't count either.

The "none" option, he argued, was akin to a protest vote that allows voters to communicate with politicians that they are unhappy with their choices.

"The purpose of the option is to send a clear message," he said

But the judge disagreed, and early in the hour-long hearing said he believed that a "none" vote was indeed a vote that should be counted toward election results, and not just to register a protest.

"I don't buy your arguments that it isn't a vote, because it is a vote," Jones said.

At one point Jones suggested that requiring votes for "none" to be counted and binding would satisfy the legal challenges raised in the lawsuit. If "none" got the most votes, nobody would be elected and the vacancy could be filled by governor appointment, he theorized.

Instead, he granted an injunction to strip "none" from the Nevada ballot.

Nevada is the only state to offer the "none" 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. "None of these candidates" has been a choice for races where voters statewide cast ballots - the president, U.S. Senate, state constitutional officers and Nevada Supreme Court justices.

While the law says "none" can't win, it could have played spoiler in a close race.

"None" has never bested named candidates in a general election, though it has 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 didn'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, U.S. 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.

Michael Morley, in his argument to boot the "none" option, argued that the Voting Rights Act and other laws are designed to ensure everyone's votes are counted.

He argued a vote for "none" was an affirmative, deliberate action, as opposed to waiving one's right to vote in a particular race, and that "none" votes can affect the outcome.

Jones said he would issue a written order detailing his legal analysis at a later date but before Sept. 7, when state elections officials said ballots have to ready for printing.
© Copyright 2015 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Doctors: Blood clot located in Clinton's head
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton developed a blood clot in her head but did not suffer a stroke or neurological damage, her doctors said Monday. They say they are confident that she will make a full recovery.
3:55PM ( 2 years ago )
Illinois Sen. Kirk to return a year after stroke
Nearly a year after a stroke left him barely able to move the left side of his body, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is expected to climb the 45 steps to the Senate's front door this week - a walk that's significant not just for Illinois' junior senator, but also for medical researchers and hundreds of thousands of stroke patients.
3:54PM ( 2 years ago )
U.S. News
Ga. ethics legislation could end free tickets
General Assembly approval next year of a proposed ethics reform measure could endanger an important fall tradition for Georgia lawmakers - free football tickets.
6:26PM ( 2 years ago )
Abortion restrictions, tax changes loom in Ga.
Tax breaks for manufacturers and higher unemployment taxes for employers take effect with the new year in Georgia, but it remains to be seen whether the state's newest abortion restrictions will be enforced.
6:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Budget battle sends mixed signals on health care
Confused about the federal budget struggle? So are doctors, hospital administrators and other medical professionals who serve the 100 million Americans covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
6:20PM ( 2 years ago )
Politics
Obama again avoids calling 1915 Armenian killings 'genocide'
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will once again stop short of calling the 1915 massacre of Armenians a genocide, prompting anger and disappointment from those who have been pushing him to ful...
1:00PM ( 1 week ago )
Ex-NFL star Hernandez convicted of murder, sentenced to life
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for a deadly late-night shooting, sealing the d...
8:54PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Clinton kicks off 2016 campaign online, heads next to Iowa
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton jumped back into presidential politics on Sunday, making a much-awaited announcement she will again seek the White House with a promise to serve as the "champi...
7:56PM ( 2 weeks ago )
Hall, White, Jefferson schools recognized nationally for use of technology
Three school districts in northeast Georgia - Hall, White, and Jefferson - have received national recognition for their use use of innovative technologies. They earned top spots in the Center for Digital Education's and the National School Boards Association's 10th annual Digital School Districts Survey.
By Staff
1:00PM ( 2 weeks ago )
US Capitol lockdown lifted after man fatally shoots himself
WASHINGTON (AP) — A precautionary lockdown of the U.S. Capitol was lifted after about two hours Saturday following a suicide by a man carrying a protest sign.The man died after shooting himself on the...
6:15PM ( 3 weeks ago )