People cast their ballots in Carson City, Nev., on Nov. 4, 2014. (Photo: Cathleen Allison, AP)
In Nevada, nobody is somebody.
The Silver State, being the king of quirk in the nation, has a unique option for those wanting to register a protest vote this election with the “none of these candidates” choice.
The option is essentially a protest vote for citizens to say the candidates aren’t to their liking. It is the brainchild of former Assemblyman and state Sen. Don Mello, a Democrat from Washoe County.
"President Nixon gave me that idea. When we were going door-to-door, I would find more people that knew me and said, 'We would vote for you again— or for the first time—but we’re not going to the polls.' I said, 'Why?' and they said, 'Because we don’t feel that most of the people are worthy of our vote. We’re staying home.' But I said, 'If you don’t give me a vote, I may not be back,' and they said, 'Well, that’s the way we feel about it.'
"So I kept a list, and I asked each one of them if they could go to the polls and vote no instead of voting for someone — just vote no so their vote would be registered — would you go then? I had to go back to many of them. I wrote their names down and their addresses. When I came up with the idea and went back and asked them, every one of them told me they would.
"When I introduced the legislation in 1975, I had it on everybody’s race: 'none of the above.' My colleagues hated it, but I was very successful in convincing them that we ought to put it on the ballot somewhere. So we put it on statewide offices. One of the Supreme Court Justices was running unopposed in 1976 except for 'none of these candidates,' and 'none' got a third of the votes. When he saw me one day after the election, standing out on the corner — I was going across the street to have lunch — he told me, 'Mello, I’ll never forget you.' "
"None of these candidates" has won several races before, though it ends up being somewhat moot since the second-place finisher is considered the winner.
The first time "none of these candidates" won was in 1976 when Nevadans preferred literally no one to both of the Republican candidates for the at-large congressional seat. (Second-place winner Don Earhart was crowned the nominee. He lost to longtime Democratic congressman Jim Santini in a landslide.)
Most recently, it played a role in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Democrats didn’t care for their candidates for governor and instead picked “none of these candidates.” (Bob Goodman won the nomination, going on to get crushed in the general by incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.)
A sample ballot from Washoe County, Nev. Nevada has a unique quirk by including "none of these candidates" in statewide races. (Photo: Seth A. Richardson/RGJ)
While no one can’t take a seat, it can play a huge role in the election.
In 1998, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., bested Republican John Ensign — himself a future senator — by 438 votes. “None of these candidates” won 8,125.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is a longtime proponent of the “none of these candidates” option, having written defenses of it and even indicating he might go that route this presidential election. Heller himself might’ve benefited from “none of these candidates” during his 2012 run for Senate, when he beat Democrat Shelley Berkley by 11,576. “None of these candidates” received 45,277.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton can probably rest easy. While "none of these candidates" has affected statewide races from time-to-time, presidential politics remains relatively unscathed by the option. It’s only broken one percent of the vote once since 1988, though it routinely beats the Libertarian candidate.
Erik Herzik, a professor in political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, said it could be higher this time, especially given the negative opinions of Trump and Clinton, but likely wouldn't affect the outcome. More people were likely to defect from Trump than Clinton, he said.
"I think he has more people who just say, ‘Oh, hell no,’ " said Herzik, a Republican. "But then they won’t vote for Clinton."