San Francisco Chronicle
None of the Above: Voters
dissatisfied with Davis and Simon do have other options
By Jonathan Curiel
October 6, 2002
frustrated by the two major candidates for governor -- and judging
by the polls, millions of people are turned off -- would be able to
pick "none of the above" on their ballots if Al Shugart's measure
had passed two years ago.
His Proposition 23 would have given state
voters the "none of the above" option for all elective offices, but
it was soundly rejected, leaving discouraged voters with a
what-could-have-been feeling as they ponder the current California
governor's race between incumbent Gray Davis and challenger Bill
"Nobody likes Davis or Simon, and I don't either," says
Shugart, the co- founder of Seagate Technology who once ran his dog
for office. "I have people saying, 'Where is "None of the Above" now
that we need it?' "
The degree of dissatisfaction this year with
the major candidates seems unprecedented -- and particulary bitter.
Both candidates' disapproval ratings far outstrip their approval
For dissatisfied Democrats, Republicans, independents and
decline-to-states, there are other options in the race for the
state's highest office. Four other candidates who will appear on the
ballot, plus perhaps a write-in or two, may prove more compatible
politically. And, who knows, one of them might even have an outside
chance of winning -- at or least of influencing the debate between
the major players.
The obvious alternative for liberals is Peter
Camejo, the Green Party's candidate for governor, who advocates
living-wage laws, universal health care, marijuana decriminalization
and abolishing the death penalty. A longtime advocate of gay and
lesbian rights, Camejo, 61, marched with Martin Luther King in
Alabama and opposed the Vietnam War.
Unhappy Republicans may not
have an office-seeker to whom they can immediately turn, but they do
have two potential candidates (former Los Angeles mayor Richard
Riordan and Secretary of State Bill Jones) who are sitting on the
sidelines and could still mastermind write-in campaigns.
political observers say anything is possible, although the odds are
against an upset on Election Day, which is just 30 days away.
"These things do happen, but it's very, very rare," says Terry Moe,
a professor of political science at Stanford.
The last time a major
gubernatorial upset happened was in the 1998 Minnesota governor's
race, when Jesse Ventura -- seeking a victory for "ordinary people"
-- surged suddenly in the polls and beat Democrat Hubert Humphrey
III and Republican Norm Coleman. Even Ralph Nader, the Green Party's
2000 candidate for president, praises Ventura's upset, although
Nader and Ventura are miles apart on many issues. (It's doubtful,
for example, that Nader would ever advocate eliminating government
funding for public television and radio, as Ventura did early in his
"People didn't think Ventura could win," Nader said in a
phone interview from Washington. "He was at 9 percent in the polls
when three things happened. He got into 10 debates with the other
parties, there was same-day registration, and he got substantial
Those conditions can't be replicated in California.
The most populous, most progressive state in the country doesn't
have same-day voter registration, and the most populous, most
progressive state in the country has an incumbent governor who
refuses to be seen with non-major candidates in public, let alone at
televised debates that invite viewers to compare the contestants'
political personalities and platforms.
Not Easy Being Green
is understandably angry that Davis has excluded him from a chance to
reach voters through a medium that can be a great equalizer.
Personable, knowledgeable, funny and effusive about every issue he
addresses, Camejo -- a successful businessman who speaks fluent
Spanish -- is the sort of candidate who would benefit from more
exposure. Simon debated Camejo last month, fueling Camejo's
frustration that Davis won't follow suit. Camejo wanted to be
included in Monday night's debate between Davis and Simon. He points
to a poll by a Sacramento television station in which 69 percent of
respondents said he should be invited.
"I consider the poll
confirmation of what I've been advocating -- that Davis shouldn't be
allowed to determine who is involved in debates," Camejo says.
"Davis is preventing the will of the overwhelming majority of people
in California. It's insulting."
Camejo may have an unlikely ally in
John Anderson, the former presidential candidate who, as an
independent, challenged Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Now
a law professor and head of the Center for Voting and Democracy, a
think tank in Maryland, Anderson says polls should be taken several
weeks before major political debates to determine if non-major
candidates are invited. An independent or third-party candidate
should be invited if he gets 50 percent of the respondents saying he
should be included, Anderson says.
runoff voting should also be implemented at the state and national
level, which would attract more voters to elections, Anderson says.
With instant runoff voting, voters rank candidates in order of
choice; candidates advance to a runoff if no candidate receives more
than 50 percent of the vote.
"Instant runoff would be the most
positive boon that could encourage independent and third-party
candidates," Anderson says. "You get rid of the 'spoiler' label by
knowing that a second choice counts."
Nader detests the "spoiler"
accusation, saying it's the product of Democrats and Republicans who
try to marginalize the Greens and other parties. "The whole use of
the word 'spoiler' assumes the country belongs to two parties, and
that everyone else is a spoiler," Nader says. "We can't have a
country like that -- that's why I turn it around and say that (in
the 2000 presidential election) Gore took votes away from me.
Speaking metaphorically, how can you spoil a political system that's
spoiled to its core?"
Just as Nader rejects the idea that his
candidacy pulled enough votes from Gore to help hand Bush the
presidency, Camejo rejects the notion that he can only hurt Davis.
Though he has the blessing of many elected Democrats, he says, he
also has the support of people who previously voted Republican.
"I'm very friendly with elected Democrats -- from members of the
state Senate to the state Assembly -- and they have no problem with
me running against Davis," Camejo says. "They won't reveal their
names for obvious reasons, but they're saying, 'Go Peter!' And the
American Muslim Alliance (a national organization based in the Bay
Area) is endorsing me, and they endorsed Bush two years ago, so
we're also taking votes from Republicans."
For voters not
enthralled with Camejo, also on the gubernatorial ballot are Iris
Adam of the Natural Law Party, and Gary Copeland (formerly of the
Libertarian Party, which withdrew its support for him after he spit
at a radio talk-show host) and Ron Gulke of the American Independent
Party (whose message is wrapped in references to God and family).
There's always the write-in option, or else abstaining from voting
for governor at all. Anderson says going to the polls and not
casting a vote for governor is better than a "none of the above"
choice, which he calls a "cop- out. It's not a choice. It's the
responsibility of a voter to choose."
(Voters in Nevada have had a
"none of the above" choice since 1976. It's nonbinding, meaning a
candidate with the most votes is elected no matter how many people
check "none of the above." In last month's Democratic primary for
governor, "none of the above" came in second, ahead of a former
topless dancer but behind the winning candidate, Joe Neal, who said
it was "embarrassing" to be a viable candidate "trying to make a
difference, and you have to look back and see if 'none' is going to
As a voter, Anderson says he has abstained at times on
Election Day, and that he can empathize with Californians who are
unfulfilled by the Davis and Simon campaigns.
"Abstaining might be
the only thing you could do," he says. "If enough people abstain,
that might send a powerful message that we need to get busy with
instant runoff voting."
Many things could still happen by Nov. 5.
Write-in candidates can file a declaration with the state as late as
Oct. 22, so Riordan and Jones (on the Republican side) still have
time to jump into the race, and a Warren Beatty- like figure with
name recognition and political savvy could -- just could -- emerge
Call to Action
Perhaps the most satisfying option
for frustrated voters would be to go to the polls on Nov. 5, then go
home and work on changing the way politicians are elected to office.
That's what Anderson and others say -- that this year's race for
California governor is another sign that the system of electing
people to high office needs an overhaul. It shouldn't take huge
amounts of money (like the $70 million that Ross Perot spent in 1992
to run for president) for independent and third-party candidates to
get noticed and to get votes, Anderson says.
"If we're not getting
decent candidates, then you better look at the process by which they
are nominated," Anderson says. "You better reform the system."
Nader, who has come out in favor of a "none of the above" option,
calls the Green Party and other third parties "builders."
likely," he says, "that third parties win on the first round, but
they change the agenda. They push the parties to address issues
they'd prefer to ignore. There's a higher probability of winning at
the local level (as in Audie Bock's Assembly victory in 1999), but
it's a building process. You keep hammering away."
In the meantime,
frustration with Davis and Simon increases. In a Field Poll
conducted last month, 52 percent of respondents said they had an
unfavorable view of Davis and 50 percent said they had an
unfavorable view of Simon. Longtime election watchers worry that
these high disapproval ratings will mean a record low turnout next
"You have a perception of very bad choices, which is likely
to hold the vote down," says Curtis Gans, a political scientist and
director of the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for the Study of
the American Electorate. "People are feeling that their choices for
California governor are much worse even than the choice for
president in 2000."
It shouldn't come down to "the lesser of two
evils." As much as anyone else, the 72-year-old Shugart reflects the
frustration of voters when he says about Davis and Simon, "I
wouldn't vote for any of those clowns. I'd rather write in 'Mickey
Mouse.' Unfortunately, that wouldn't be counted."