EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 21, 2014

N.H. lawmakers to consider 'None of the Above' choice for voters

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — CONCORD — A bill to give New Hampshire voters the choice of “none of the above” in elections is drawing opposition from the League of Women Voters.

“None of the above is not a very effective thing,” league co-president Liz Tentarelli said. “We think it’s an easy out.”

The House Election Law Committee held a hearing Thursday on House Bill 1225.

“It is unusual,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. David Cote, D-Nashua. “The basic question people are asking is what is the problem the bill is designed to prevent, remedy or try to improve.”

Rep. Chuck Weed, D-Keene, the bill’s prime sponsor, said a constituent asked him to introduce it and he did so because he’s interested in ways of making the election process more legitimate.

Voters now can leave their ballot blank or write in Mickey Mouse, but “none of the above” is a more effective way of making candidates accountable, Weed said.

“That’s a pretty clear message that neither candidate is acceptable,” he said.

Some countries in Europe and the state of Nevada have made “none of the above” a choice available to voters, he said.

“This is something I don’t believe is partisan,” Weed said.

A co-sponsor, Rep. Larry Phillips, D-Keene, said “none of the above” would be a way for people to voice their opinion without refraining from voting.

“There are times in an election when I’m dissatisfied with all the listed candidates,” Phillips said. “Or there might be a single candidate and you don’t want to vote for that person.”

Tentarelli said voters already have a choice to withhold their vote.

But Phillips sees a difference between not voting and making “none of the above” a choice.

“That says you’ve looked at the candidates and you don’t like them enough to vote for them,” Phillips said.

Tentarelli said there are better ways that aren’t as negative.

“People can write in candidates,” she said. “We just think it puts voting into a negative light.”

A member of the committee, Rep. Shawn Jasper, R-Hudson, who represents Pelham, said he’s definitely opposed.

Jasper said the bill, as written, could potentially deprive his district of representation, should “none of the above” top the ballot in the nine-seat district.

That would force a special election, Jasper said.

“You could have Hudson-Pelham going into a legislative session with no representation,” he said.

The towns also would not know when they might get representation because “none of the above” could prevail in the special election, too, he said.

“It does set the stage for chaos,” Tentarelli said.

Sponsors haven’t looked into the mechanical aspects to determine whether this would work with voting machines, Jasper said.

Weed acknowledged sponsors didn’t consult the Secretary of State’s office, but said there is still time for that office to have input.

Jasper maintains voters already are exercising the “none of the above” option.

Just check the voter turnout numbers against the vote totals, he said.

“We already have that,” he said. “People don’t vote.”

Cote said he doesn’t expect the committee to act on the bill soon because there is so much pending business at the start of the session.

When it does, Jasper doesn’t see it getting much support.

“My gut tells me there is absolutely no support in committee,” Jasper said.