- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 21, 2012

RENO, Nev. — In a high-stakes election that could help determine the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate, attention in Nevada is turning this week to one option on the ballot with no shot of winning: None of the above.

A lawsuit filed in federal court in June and financed by the Republican National Committee seeks an injunction to boot the state’s unique voter option from the Nov. 6 ballot. Since 1976, every election ballot for statewide races, including president and U.S. Senate, gives voters the option to select “none of these candidates.”

Nevada is the only state to offer the quirky option. It was a way to combat voter apathy after the Watergate scandal that brought down President Nixon and give voters an explicit chance to register their disdain for their choices.

While the law says “none” can’t win — even if it receives the most votes — the option could play spoiler in a close race.

“None” has never bested named candidates in a general election, though it’s come out on top in a few primary contests. In the 1998 U.S. Senate race, however, Democrat Harry Reid won re-election by 428 votes over then-GOP Rep. John Ensign. More than 8,000 voters rejected both men and opted to vote for “none.” Mr. Reid is now the Senate Democratic leader and one of the most powerful men in his party.

That’s a scenario the option’s challengers — a mix of Republicans, Democrats and independents — don’t want to see this year.

The contest between President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney promises to be close, as does the one between GOP freshman Sen. Dean Heller and his Democratic challenger, Rep. Shelley Berkley of Las Vegas.

Conventional thinking suggests voters who select “none” may be more likely to favor a challenger, such as Mr. Romney, if the option wasn’t available.

In their lawsuit against Secretary of State Ross Miller, opponents argue that because “none” doesn’t count in the tally to determine a victor, voters — whether they opt for “none” or a candidate who breathes — are disenfranchised.

The attorney general’s office, representing Mr. Miller, argues the suit should be dismissed. They say voters “always have the right to not vote” for listed candidates, and voting for “none” is essentially no different than skipping a particular race on a ballot altogether.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Wednesday.

Nevada, a state that President Obama carried over Republican challenger Sen. John McCain in 2008, is emerging as one of the key battleground states of the presidential contest. The state’s economic woes, including a still-deep housing crisis and the highest unemployment rate of any state in the country, have given Republicans hope that Silver State voters will be receptive to Mr. Romney’s message of change and economic reform.

But an average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics gives the president a 5-percentage-point lead over Mr. Romney, 49.7 percent to 44.7 percent, in part because of Mr. Obama’s strong edge among the state’s growing Hispanic voting bloc, and most forecasters see Nevada leaning toward the Democrat this fall.