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How Nevada Became the Only State Where You Can Vote for ‘None Of These Candidates’

In most years, a good option.

An empty senate chamber, circa 1873.

An empty senate chamber, circa 1873. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-cwpbh-03299)

Sometimes voting feels like a very tough SAT question: none of the choices seem right. What to do when you can’t put your heart into any of those empty bubbles? In most states, voters are forced to register dissatisfaction with what’s on offer by writing someone in, going for a protest candidate, or simply staying home.

In Nevada, though, malcontents have another option: they can cast an official vote for no one. 

The “None of These Candidates” option has appeared on statewide Nevada ballots since 1975, when it was introduced as a convoluted get-out-the-vote tactic. According to the Washington Post, after Watergate, officials wanted to make sure that even people who were totally fed up with politics had a reason to come to the polls—even if it was just to vote against everyone.

Since then, the option has won four elections—most recently in 2014, when it beat out eight actual human beings in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. As “None Of These Candidates” has no body, and thus cannot technically take office, the runner-up was given the slot. In other elections, it has served as a potential spoiler: in the 1996 presidential race, Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole in Nevada by just 4,730 votes, a smaller margin than the 5,608 garnered by the “we hate ‘em all!” option. 

Critics argue that the measure has failed to accomplish its original purpose. ”Nevada has experienced a nearly uninterrupted decline in turnout since its creation,” writes Dennis Myers of community group Nevada Humanities. Why vote for no one when you could just stay home?

But at least one recent poll indicates that fans of no one will turn out in full force this year—as of July, 4% of voters plan to choose that option, according to a Monmouth University poll. Perhaps we need new backyard signs.