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LAS VEGAS — Nevada voters unhappy with the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump don’t have to consider Libertarian Gary Johnson or either of the two other candidates on the ballot (Jill Stein of the Green Party failed to qualify).
Since 1975, Nevada ballots have included the ultimate protest option: “None of These Candidates.” It’s something no other state has.
“It was a post-Watergate effort to try to get people to participate in the process, but also here’s a chance to sort of vent if they’re disappointed about their choices,” says University of Nevada Las Vegas political science professor David Damore. “The big consequence of it is that you end up typically in a close race with the winning candidate not getting 50 percent.”
In a presidential contest, the option has never won more than 1.9 percent of the vote. Given the high unpopularity of both major party’s nominees, Damore estimates it could get up to 5 percent this year.
In some elections — including two presidential contests — it’s played a spoiler role. In 1996, None of These Candidates got 5,608 votes, more than President Bill Clinton’s margin of 4,730 votes over Bob Dole. Two years later, the 8,125 votes for None of These Candidates was far greater than the 401-vote margin between Democrat Harry Reid and Republican John Ensign. And in the 2012 Senate election, Republican Dean Heller beat Democrat Shelley Berkley by 11,576 votes, with about one-quarter of the 45,277 ballots cast for None of These Candidates.
Damore says it’s most popular in primaries or elections for the Nevada Supreme Court, when candidates are often not well-known.
None of These Candidates has actually finished first in four primary elections: Two for U.S. House seats and once each for the Secretary of State and State Treasurer. State law says that in those cases the actual candidate who wins the most votes wins the election.
In 2012, the Republican Party went to court to get None of These Candidates off the ballot. Party lawyers argued it was unconstitutional, because if the option won the most votes, it doesn’t win. A federal district court judge agreed, but the suit was thrown out on appeal.
So in Nevada, the old political adage is wrong: You really can beat somebody with nobody.
John Yang is the anchor of PBS News Weekend and a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. He covered the first year of the Trump administration and is currently reporting on major national issues from Washington, DC, and across the country.
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