With many voters holding unfavorable opinions of both Senator Harry Reid and his challenger, Sharron Angle, more voters than ever may be checking the box for “none of these candidates” in November. Interestingly, Nevada is the only state to give voters the option to vote for none of the above (although, voters everywhere can always refuse to cast a ballot at all in a particular race, a practice resulting in what is called an “undervote”).
Nevada has allowed voters to select “none of these candidates” in all statewide races since 1975. There is no legal consequence if “none of these candidates” gets the most votes. Instead, only votes for named candidates are counted for purposes of determining a victor. NRS 293.269. Still, “none of these candidates” gives voters a chance to officially record a protest vote, which can certainly put candidates on notice as to their popularity.
Many are wondering just how many voters will select “none of these candidates” in the 2010 Senate general election. Historically and also ironically, the highest percentage ever in this category in a US Senate general election contest came in 1986, when 3.62% of voters lodged their dissatisfaction with Harry Reid and Jim Santini, the primary contenders for the office. Harry Reid went on to win the election, his first to the United States Senate. (Statistics Courtesy of the Nevada Secretary of State).
Recent polls show that up to 5% of voters prefer “none of these candidates” to either Harry Reid or Sharron Angle. If that percentage holds, it will represent a marked and significant increase in the percentage of voters selecting the non-candidate option. [Updated: another poll shows that up to 7% prefer neither candidate].
Of course, even refusing to vote for a named candidate has direct repercussions on the race, as it represents a vote that otherwise would have been cast for a named candidate. Conventional wisdom holds that Republican moderates, who cannot bring themselves to vote for Harry Reid but who fear the uncertainties of Sharron Angle, will make up the bulk of voters choosing “none of these candidates.” If so, then Harry Reid has more to gain than to lose from a high percentage of disenchanted voters.
UPDATE: The Las Vegas Sun followed up on this blog post with an interesting article. You can read it here.