Why is it election choices are often so unattractive that voters feel they have to choose between the lesser of two or more flawed candidates? I propose a constitutional amendment that would permit the electorate to express its dissatisfaction with the candidates on the ballot. It would require the addition of another choice, marked simply “Do-Over.”
By choosing that option, voters would be saying they will not vote for any of the candidates and would be instructing the parties to come up with better choices. The amendment would provide that the sitting president would continue to serve until such time as an electable candidate wins. The rejected candidates would not have the option of again appearing on the ballot for at least two election cycles.
Presidential elections, in particular, are too important to limit the choice to candidates who have managed to survive the rigors of an increasingly incoherent nomination process. Voters should have the option of saying “none of the above” by requiring the process to begin again. It would simply be the institutional application of that familiar adage: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
In what other important life decisions are we required to choose between the first two or three options.
If none are appealing, it’s usually back to the drawing board: Come up with another plan or find me a better prospect. The pending presidential election is a perfect example of a rigged system. Not because it’s unfair to the candidates, but because it is unfair to voters. They’re stuck with candidates with high unfavorability ratings. They now can only express their dissatisfaction by staying home or voting for a fringe candidate.
A vote for a “do-over” is a vote against the electoral process. It says you can do better than this. Go back and find better candidates. If not, we’ll make you do it over and over again till you get it right and we, the people, have a choice between qualified and respectable candidates.
If we can’t change the nomination process, we can at least nullify it.
Can you see it now? It’s election night and all the networks are covering the returns. Tom Brokaw announces the polls have finally closed in Ohio and turns to the screen. Donald Trump – 846,000; Hillary Clinton – 1,059,000; and Do-Over – 1,456,000. “That places Ohio in the Do-Over column along with Florida and North Carolina,” Brokaw exclaims. “We may be in for an historic night when a majority of the electorate rejects both candidates and retains President Obama until the parties offer an acceptable alternative.”
Donald Trump later appears at his headquarters claiming the election was rigged while heaping scorn on “Never Sober Do-Over” until a campaign aide tells him Do-Over is not a person. He can’t believe he’s been beaten by a nobody and has to be helped off the stage. Hillary Clinton is more circumspect; she congratulates the Do-Over supporters and jokes that at last she can be a housewife, her life’s ambition.
At Trump headquarters, US House Speaker Paul Ryan breaths a sigh of relief and whispers to US Sen. John McCain that he, too, voted for Do-Over. McCain smiles and says so did half the Senate. An excited Sen. Ted Cruz runs up onto the stage, grabs the microphone, and announces he is running again. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is helped to his limousine, muttering: “Beaten by nobody, what a disgrace. How will I ever face myself?”
Television executives are thrilled at the prospect of doing it all over again. “Think of all the revenue it will generate as a new Survivor series,” one exclaims. “Maybe we can encourage Kim Kardashian to run next time.” At the White House, President Obama sighs and says: “The way things are going, we may be here for the long haul. I so looked forward to being a former president, but I’m willing to take one for the team to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.