Louisiana voters need voting alternatives

In last week’s column, I wrote about the dislike of a large number of voters in Louisiana who did not endorse a candidate on the ballot. Many voters just wanted to kick out the bums. But most of the incumbents running for re-election had big campaign funds and overcame every significant challenge.

Our US Senator John Kennedy could have paid off the national debt with all the money he could muster. His expensive television commercials were top notch and did a good job of showing his accomplishments in Washington and his commitment to Louisiana values. But it cost money. Lots of campaign money. His handful of challengers didn’t stand a chance. The same applies to all members of the Louisiana congressional delegation. As Lisa Minnelli sings in the cabaret, “Money makes the world go round.”

Really, most voters in Bayou state are happy with their elected officials sending them to Washington. But what if they aren’t? Do they have an alternative, especially when the competition consists of underage candidates unable to raise significant campaign funds to challenge them? Currently not. But what if there were a third option for voters, one that allowed a voter to express dissatisfaction with the current list of candidates?

You may be too young to remember, but such a third choice was proposed as early as 1973 by an obscure state senator from Ferriday. I’m not sure of his name. Could have been a guy named Senator Jim Brown. A law was proposed to give voters an additional choice. If you didn’t like any candidate on the ballot, you can simply select “None of the above”. That’s correct. Voters would have the opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction with any candidate running for a particular office. Should “None of the Above” receive the most votes, a new election would be required.

My legislation received strong support from a number of good government groups across the state. I received numerous letters and phone calls from Louisians across the state expressing their support for such a unique proposal. But then the old guard got together and torpedoed what I thought was a good idea. Senior senators said they just couldn’t support my legislation. They were concerned that “None of the Above” might win. As the senior member of the state, BB “Sixty” Rayburn told me, “Not being beaten by any of the above? It could happen and how humiliating it would be.”

But if such a choice were possible in the Louisiana election, the polls show that “none of the above” would landslidely win a number of races. And for many voters here in Bayou, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

In fact, the idea has sparked interest and started to generate a lot of traction, particularly in the West. Here’s what the Wall Street Journal recently wrote. “It’s time to consider giving voters a mandatory none-of-the-above line on ballots.” And what about Nevada? Since 1975, Nevada ballots have included this ultimate protest option: “None of these candidates.” So far, no other state has this.

“In Nevada, it was a post-Watergate effort to get people involved in the process, but here’s also a chance to vent if they’re disappointed in their decisions,” says a political science professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas David Damore. “The big implication of this is that you usually end up in a tight race where the winning candidate doesn’t get 50 percent.”

So who knows where this unique idea may end up. A few years ago there was a guy in Winnsboro named LD Knox. He went to court and legally changed his name to LD “None of the Above” Knox. He never won elective office, but apparently got more votes than most people in the field thought he was going to get. Maybe that was a bit extreme, but it showed more interest in the idea.

Here is the bottom line. As I wrote last week, until there are ways to reduce the amount of campaign money incumbents are allowed to raise and spend, a significant number of voters will be unhappy. None of this may not be the solution, but there has to be a better way for candidates to talk about issues and not spend all their time raising campaign funds.

peace and justice

Jim Brown