David Gatchell wants to give voters a voice of protest. Officials in charge of state elections are afraid he'll simply end up confusing the electorate.
At issue are four words: "None of the Above."
Gatchell, of Franklin, had his middle name of "Leroy" legally changed to that phrase last year and wants it to appear that way on the ballot in November when he is running as an independent for governor and the U.S. Senate.
But state election commissioners unanimously voted in April to bar the unconventional middle name from appearing in the election.
Gatchell has sued, and a Davidson County chancellor is scheduled to hear the dispute Friday, though the hearing may be postponed, said William B. Bradley, Gatchell's lawyer.
The software developer said he wants to give voters the option of formalizing their displeasure with people running for office. "They don't want to have to pick the least disagreeable candidate," Gatchell said. Only Nevada gives voters the alternative of "None of These Candidates," though the notion has come up in other states, according to Gatchell.
Bobby Sands of Columbia, the state election commissioner who made the motion against the name, said Gatchell did not sign his driver's license or other legal documents that way.
"He's playing games with the ballot," Sands said. "He has never used that name. What's misleading is that we don't have that option on the ballot."
The only reason he didn't sign his full name is because the blank lines to fill in are too short, Gatchell said. "I feel so strong about this. It's my identity."
As they discussed Gatchell at their April meeting, the state election commissioners didn't shoot down the name because it was misleading but because it was silly and frivolous, Bradley said.
Interesting nicknames permitted on ballots this year include: "Twofeathers," "Combat," "Booty," "Coach," and "Pee Wee." In Dickson County, there's a "Buckwheat" running against a "Cotton" in the Aug. 3 election.
Should the 58-year-old Gatchell win as a "None of the Above," or NOTA, candidate, he would arrange a special election to give voters a chance to pick another winner, excluding the people whose names were on the original ballot, and then resign, he said. If he doesn't win, the NOTA option serves as a gauge of voter opinion, he said. Thompson disagreed, saying a NOTA alternative serves no purpose.
"You'll have to have another election or have the vacancy filled, and it wouldn't be the people filling it," he said.
NOTA has been endorsed by consumer rights and political activist Ralph Nader. Backers have pointed to examples where the alternative was better than either candidate.
The 1991 governor's race in Louisiana between Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and Edwin Edwards, a former governor who had been federally indicted, is one example of a race where voters would want a NOTA option, according to the "Voters for None of the Above," a nonpartisan group.