Copping out

This morning, I read news that Massachusetts is considering a major change to how they run their elections. Some lawmakers want to put a final line on each ballot race for “None Of The Above.” And if None wins, there has to be a new election.

The sole exception would be for presidential races, where the state simply can”t enforce such a move.

I think this is a truly stupid idea.

My first impulse was to blame this on Massachusetts Democrats. Massachusetts is the bluest of the blue states — they have such a powerful lock on the state that their smallest element of control is in the legislature, where they only hold about 85% of the seats. Consequently, blaming the Democrats for anything bad about the state is pretty much a given.

But then I thought about it some more, and realized that while that was the easiest jump to make, it wasn’t necessarily so. People being fed up with their elected officials and wannabes is not a partisan issue, but more a reflection of general disgust that crosses party lines. For those who care about such things, look at the approval ratings for Bush and Congress — sometimes it seems they’re racing for the bottom. And “none of the above” already scores high on presidential candidate polls. And I often find myself agreeing.

But why would I oppose this plan?

It’s simple. We are a democracy. (Well, technically, a Constitutional democratic republic, but for this argument, that’s close enough for jazz.) And in a democracy, the people tend to get the government they deserve.

There are very few legal and technical barriers preventing people from running for office. Hell, I could run for president; I meet all the legal requirements. I could also run for almost any other office I chose.

There are a lot of informal barriers out there, involving money and organizational strength and whatnot, but they are byblows of the legal and constitutional structures, not innate to the system. And if enough people dislike them enough, they can get around them.

That is the crux of the situation. Everyone wants to complain about the system, but nobody is upset enough to actually work for a change.

A perfect example is the electoral college system. For over 200 years we’ve lived with a system that allows a candidate who might not win a majority of the popular vote to become president. In fact, the candidate who does win a majority can still lose. But no one has put forth a serious effort to change the system. Instead, every few years we get a whole lot of people bitching about it, and a couple of states decide to screw around with how they handle their electoral votes (quite possibly violating the Constitution in the process), but there simply hasn’t been enough outrage to prompt what really needs to be done to change it — an amendment to the Constitution.

Likewise, this “None Of The Above” move is an empty gesture. It’s political masturbation — it makes people feel good for a little while without addressing the source of the situation.

Don’t like the crop of candidates? Run yourself, or find someone you do like and get them to run. Or leave that line blank. Don’t allow people to just out of hand petulantly reject all of them and demand a fresh slate — which could very well get rejected as well, leading to an endless series of fruitless elections.

And in the meantime, who would govern? Would the current crop of elected officials simply stay in office, the ultimate “lame ducks” who could act with utter impunity of having to face the voters’ wrath? The unelected bureaucracy? Nobody?

(Then again, this would pretty much guarantee government inaction for some time, and that has its own merits. But I digress…)

Democracy is a blessing, but one that comes with strings. And one of those is responsibility — we have to live with the consequences of our choices. The “None Of The Above” move is a move towards shirking responsibility, towards finding scapegoats and evading every citizen’s public duty to choose our government.

We already have the power to change things. We are just too lazy or not fed up enough to exercise that power. This move isn’t about changing anything, but placating the whiners.

It needs to die. And it needs to die in a suitably horrific and public manner, as an example for those who would seek such transparent ploys instead of seeking real solutions.

The land of the setting sun?
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