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Dylan Ratigan's Radical "Reboot" Idea

What if on election day, after you were asked to pick a candidate, you were asked a second question: "Should the winner take office, or should we have another election?" Call it an Instant Recall . . .

A couple of weeks ago I was invited onto Dylan Ratigan's TV show to discuss "none of the above" voting. At least that's what the producer said Ratigan wanted to discuss. Before air time I went online and learned that one state, Nevada, has a "none of the above" option. Aside from potentially re-electing Harry Reid by siphoning anti-establishment votes away from Sharron Angle, it doesn't seem to have much of an impact. Usually it attracts a small percentage of the vote--more in downballot, unopposed judicial races. On occasion it outdraws a primary candidate, but it's never actually come in first in a general election. If it did, that wouldn't make a difference anyway. The candidate who came in second would win.

But that wasn't what Ratigan was pushing, it turned out. I don't have a transcript (and I'm behind in my NEXIS payments) but I distinctly remember him saying that, if his version of "none of the above" actually won, none of the other candidates on the ballot would take office. They'd have to run the election over again, with new candidates.

This seems like a radical, and maybe wonderful, idea. Call it Instant Recall voting. No longer would you be stuck with the two turkeys picked by the highly polarized primary electorates of the Democrats and Republicans. Voters could reject them both without having, at the same time, to settle on the candidate they actually wanted. Do you have to have a new boyfriend in order to break up with your old boyfriend? I didn't think so. Faced with the unappetizing choice of Angle or Reid, the electorate could just push back from the table. "Waiter, bring me something else."

I can see two ways of implementing a Ratigan Instant Recall. The conventional approach would put "none of the above" on the ballot with the other candidates. If "none" won, then the other candidates would lose. There'd have to be another election. The somebodies who got beat by nobody could be banned from that second election.

In effect, this would be like Nevada's system, but with real consequences. Why might "none of the above" win, if it's never won before, at least in Nevada's experience? Because of those real consequences. Voters might pick it precisely because (unlike earlier angry Nevadans)  they wouldn't be throwing their vote away. They'd be throwing the candidates away. Still, you'd have to think it would be a very rare occasion when neither candidate could beat "none."

The really subversive form of the idea would put the "none" on a separate ballot line (much as in California's 2003 gubernatorial recall). Voters would choose between the candidates. Then there would be a second, distinct ballot question: "Should the winner of the above contest assume office, or should we hold a new election with new candidates?" Like computer users, voters would be given the option of "reboot now."

You could see this reform having large and positive consequences. Parties would be cautious about nominating fringe figures, because even if they won their race (against a presumably unappealing opponent) they might lose on the "reboot" question. Negative ads? They're great at winning a one-on-one battle, but they turn off voters. Turn off too many and you could win the battle but lose the Reboot.

A state could keep having elections until at least 50% of the voters were satisfied that they'd picked someone they were actually comfortable being governed by. It's hard to believe these wouldn't be more trusted, moderate figures. The David Broder column is already written. Ratigan's reform might even be more effective at electing moderates and centrists than ending gerrymandering (which is worthwhile but only works to ensure competition if there are enough geographic districts that haven't already self-segregated by party).*

You could also anticipate bad consequences. A badly trailing candidate might start campaigning for a "reboot," giving him an extra incentive to go negative. Well-respected figures might start sitting out regular elections, hoping for a reboot after which the voters would turn to them. It might seem as if the election never ended.  On the other hand, elections might be more exciting, with higher voter awareness. And the Instant Recall system pairs well with electronic voting, which might enable cheap and fast redos.

As with term limits, many of the consequences would be unintended, and it would be arrogant to try to anticipate them all. But, if people are upset enough with the two-party oligopoly and the limited choices it offers, Ratigan's idea seems worth a try—somewhere. Like term limits, it's the sort of reform you enact when you've tried everything else and you'll settle for something different. Unlike term limits, it works not by arbitrarily disqualifying candidates but by letting voters disqualify candidates. Its madness is grounded in democracy, yet it avoids the perils of plebiscitism by directing the rebellious democratic impulse toward the choosing of satisfactory representatives (who can then be as Burkean as they want when it comes to exercising independent judgment).

Is Ratigan the Santelli of the Reboot Movement? He can't be the first to have thought of this idea. Let me know what's wrong with it . . .

Update: Dylan Ratigan emails to say

the idea was presented to me in the greenroom a few months ago by -

Ed Crego [&] George Munoz . . . Co-Authors, "Renewing the American Dream"

Idea is in the book.

The book's Web site is here.

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*—In a gerrymandered district—say 70% Democratic—an extreme left candidate can win office by getting 50% of the Democratic  primary vote, or 35% of all voters. In a Ratigan Recall election that would win him the primary, and the general—but he'd also have to survive a Reboot vote in which the 34% of voters who voted against him in the primary might join with the 30% of voters who are Republican to deny him the office. Better not be too extreme. The same crude arithmetic works for extreme right Republicans in gerrymandered Republican districts, of course. 9:48 p.m.

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WeHo the People! From Hotline On Call, discussing the Meet the Press debate between incumbent Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (D) and challenger Ken Buck (R):

At one point, Buck opened the door to a potential Democratic attack ad when he compared being gay to the disease of alcoholism.

When asked if being gay is a choice, Buck said yes, and went on to add: "I think that birth has an influence . . . like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically, you have a choice."

Am I living in the same country as Hotline? I mean, I believe Buck is wrong. Ninety-eight percent of the people I know, liberal and conservative, believe he is wrong. But is this really something Democratic strategist are going to base an atack ad on? "Ken Buck thinks being gay is a choice. That's just unacceptable in Colorado." That's going to swing independent voters in a tight race? Unless the Colorado electorate is a lot more like the readership of the New York Times' "Thursday Styles" section than I think it is, there are other, more widely resonant issues. I don't even think that ad would swing an election on Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica . . . 9:43 p.m.

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President Obama says "we're hard-wired not to always think clearly when we're scared." Is that true? Are we? Where's the evolutionary advantage in that kind of hard-wiring, asks ex-Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson? . . . It's hard to believe Slate's "Explainer" column missed this one. Take it away, Will Saletan. . . .

P.S.—I Decide Who's a Snob Around Here, Buddy: Note that Gerson himself eventually concedes much of Obama's argument, at least on Gerson's pet self-righteous cause of immigration reform:

And a reactionary populism can be disturbing when it targets minorities, immigrants and intellectuals. But intellectual disdain among elites feeds this destructive populism rather than directing or defusing it. Obama is helping to cause what he criticizes.

It is among the nobler callings of a leader to understand public fears and then place them in the context of national commitments . . . Yes, the borders must be controlled and terrorism is a mortal threat—but we can't give in to stereotyping and hatred. [E.A.]

Why can't I disagree with Gerson on immigration—you know, just because I disagree with him, maybe a dispute about the effect of immigration on wages—without being guilty of "stereotyping and hatred"? I sense some disdain on his part!. . .

P.P.S.: What part of the brain is the smug located in? In Gerson it's hypertrophied . . . 9:30 p.m.

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Andrew Sullivan has "small staff of four people to help him handle the blog" says NPR. Er, what's a "big" staff for a blog? . . . In ten short years Sullivan's created a bloated blog bureaucracy! He needs his own Tea Party . . . 9:28 p.m.

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