Truly Free Elections
(Printed in the Towanda Daily Review on 3/18/95.)
Editor: As much as I hate to admit, I agree (with a few qualifications) with recent Podium articles, presented by Senator Roger Madigan (Daily Review 2/21) and Rep. Matt Baker (2/23), against term limits for elected officials. Both argued against term limits with the premise that a fixed bureaucracy would gradually gain power over inexperienced elected officials.
Senator Madigan wrote, ". . . term limits threaten to shift the balance of power to legislative staffers," and Rep. Baker said, ". . . term limits will only elevate the status and role of unelected bureaucrats who are not directly accountable to the voters but who will exert additional influence over newly elected officials." I agree. The actual effect of term limits could be the opposite of the intended effect.
Each pointed out that a method already exists to limit the terms of officials who don't perform as intended by the majority of participating voters. Senator Madigan wrote, "If they're dissatisfied with their government officials, they'll throw them out of office." Rep. Baker stated, "the final authority on change comes from the grassroots-the voters." Both implied that the voters have a choice at election time. I disagree.
In most elections, my choice has been the Least Objectionable Candidate (LOC). Of those running, I frequently have been forced to vote, not for a candidate that I support, but against the remaining candidate or candidates whom I don't support. I do this by voting for the LOC, the one that I decide will do the least harm while in office. If I strongly dislike all of the candidates for a particular office, I always have the option to withhold my vote. But this only gives more weight to other voters' choices, and possibly allows the most objectionable candidate to win. So I vote either for the LOC, or I write-in "None of the above" (NOTA) and waste my vote with a silent protest.
For a truly free election, NOTA should be a valid choice on all ballots. Thus if a voter has serious concerns about the choices on a ballot and selects NOTA, it would be tabulated with the other votes for that particular office. If NOTA won, then the office would remain unfilled, or the election would be rescheduled with different (or additional) candidates. With elections held in this manner, winners, if chosen, would know that they were the choice of the participating voters, and were not the LOCs. If NOTA continues to win in any given race, a strong message -- find another profession -- is conveyed to those seeking that particular office.
To all present and future candidates: Are you willing to participate in truly free elections? If so, introduce or support legislation to add NOTA to all ballots. Otherwise, I am forced to support term limits or a referendum calling for them -- whatever the consequences.
John L. Ferri