Boston — Can a nonvoter be a voter? Yes, in Nevada where a voter can officially say "no" to the presidential candidates on the ballot.
Nevada is the only state that will offer a choice of "none of the above" on its November ballot. Because of this, political observers in the state expect a greater turnout at the polls by voters turned off by this year's presidential hopefuls.
The "none of the above" choice, political historians say, is one that more and more voters would like to make this year. Nationwide, voter participation in 1980 is expected to equal or sink below the 54.3 percent of eligible voters who cast ballots in 1976, report a number of historians who analyze election trends.
A number of informal groups, such as a new "No-Confidence Party," have risen out the electoral disillusionment. These organizations often hope to send a message of discontent via the ballot box or other means. The National Organization of Non-Electors (NON), a nonprofit group set up last year, hopes survey nonvoters about the American election system. "We still have the patriotic duty to vote. But more people know how the political system works and say, 'Why should I?,'" says NON founder Thomas Mechling.
Reasons given for why people don't vote range from the disillusionment of a large population of "allienated youth" to reaction against the "low road" campaign practices of 1980.
If voter participation in 1980 dips below 50 percent, some scholars wonder whether the new US president really will be ruling with the "consent of the governed," as the Declaration of Independence states.
Disenchanted voters, as well as those eligible who might stay home on Nov. 4, could find and outlet for political frustrations if the presidential ballot contained a box for "none of the above," says Curtis B. Gans of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. The idea was tried in the 1968 Wisconsin primary as a way to protest President Lyndon Johnson's war policies. Now, Mr. Gans says, "The theory is just to get people to vote."
First available in 1976, Nevada's "none" ballot choice was credited by its supporters for slowing a sharp decline in voter application, although this is hard to prove with percentages.
It also produced some interesting results. In 1976, the "no" vote won the Republican congressional primary. In 1978, it won the secretary of state race (the runner-up took office). And in the 1980 presidential primary, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy came in third behind winner Jimmy Carter and second-place "none of the candidates."