The most intriguing idea in my mail these days is a suggestion that took form because millions of voters were dissatisfied with all of this year's presidential candidates.
The suggestion is that Americans ought to be given the right to vote for "none of the above," hereinafter known as NOTA, and that when enough people vote for NOTA there should be no winner. The election should be declared invalid.
However, the innovators are not in agreement about details of their various NOTA plans. For example, some think of NOTA only in terms of the presidential contest. Others would extend it to elections for seats in the House and Senate.
Some believe that NOTA's provisions should take effect only when the Nota total is a majority of all the votes cast. Others suggest that a simple plurality should be enough to trigger the NOTA mechanism.
There are two areas of general agreement: First, District Liners think that when NOTA "wins," the election should be declared void and a new election should be held speedily -- in no more than 90 days. Second, readers believe that under the NOTA plan, almost all eligible voters would cast a ballot because everybody's vote would be important. Today, people stay at home to protest against a bad choice; under a NOTA plan, they would flock to the polls to demand new candidates.
There is disagreement, however, about whether candidates repudiated by a NOTA victory should be permitted to run again in the follow-up election or whether they should be barred while brand-new candidates present themselves for approval. For that matter, would NOTA also apply to the follow-up election? Suppose NOTA invalidated that one, too?
There are also divergent views about how the new candidates would pay their campaign expenses. Some readers think the candidates should be required to finance their own campaigns, but most District Liners favor government help. They argue that 90 days is too short a time for private fund-raising.
There is also disagreement about who should hold office while a new election is being held. Relatively few readers proposed NOTA plans that were detailed enough to cover this point, but those who did mention it appeared to favor permitting a vacancy to exist. They fear that an incumbent permitted to serve until a successor is chosen might misuse the power of his office.
No reader has suggested holding the elections in mid-October or even early October, when better weather would draw more people to the polls. Earlier voting would leave about a three-month cushion between election day and inaugural day, so that the winners of all races would very likely be known by Jan. 1. This might eliminate the problem of vacancies created by invalidated elections.
Politicians and others will give you 47 reasons why no NOTA plan will work, whatever combination of details is proposed. People who don't want to do something always have at least 47 reasons for not doing it.
Party leaders and officeholders would probably be opposed to any plan that gives the public what amounts to a veto over the nominating process. NOTA's chances of adoption are therefore diminished.
However, no nation can endure unless it changes with the times, and the changes in this country have been vast. The Founding Fathers would have found it hard to believe that some day the United States would abolish not only slavery but segregation. Or that it would bus children miles away from their neighborhood schools. How could they have guessed that new laws would allow 70 percent of a citizen's income to be taken in federal taxes? Or that other laws would prohibit the manufacture, sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors? Or grant universal suffrage to both men and women -- and provide for the direct election of senators for good measures?
And how can we guess today what changes will be made in the years ahead? At this writing it seems clear that Americans are are not apathetic about politics. They want very much to have a greater impact on public policy, but they have not yet worked out the mechanics of how to do it.
When they do, it may or may not be through the adoption of a NOTA plan. But whatever it turns out to be, people will probably learn to live with it as we learned to live with prohibition, repeal and even the income tax.