(CNN) – In a race like this, nobody wins. Actually, in a race like the primary for governor in Nevada on Tuesday night, if nobody wins, then the runner-up wins. That’s because of a nearly 40-year-old initiative in Nevada that lets voters select “none of these candidates” on the ballot.
The vote is in, and "none of these candidates" is the top vote getter in the Nevada Democratic governor's primary.
The “none” option got 30%, ahead of all eight human candidates. The top real person, Robert Goodman, got 24.9%, far outpacing the rest of the field.
But "none of these candidates" can't win under state law, so Goodman will be the nominee.
This is not the first time “none” has won in Nevada.
When Nevada became the first state to institute a “none of the above” line to its ballot in 1975, it was described as a way for voters to register protest. But the option has become a lesson in what the late German economist Horst Siebert called the cobra effect.
In colonial India, the British government, concerned about the number of venomous cobras in Delhi, offered a bounty for every dead one. So people farmed cobras, killed them and turned them in for the bounties. When the government caught on to the ruse, it stopped the bounties and the farmers freed the cobras.
As in the cobra case, there are unintended consequences when protest candidates lose votes from voters choosing to vote for nobody rather than a candidate. In Nevada, the incumbent usually wins out.
In 1976, “none of these candidates” outpolled the two human contenders in a Republican primary race for Nevada’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. And, because “none” is not allowed to win (the ballot option is nonbinding), Walden Earhart - rejected by voters with only half the votes “nobody” garnered - won the nomination. He went on to lose promptly to Democrat Jim Santini, the incumbent in the general election.
Tuesday’s primary results are flipped from 1976. The Republican primary winner in that race was “no one,” and the runner-up lost to the incumbent Democrat. As of Tuesday, the Democratic primary winner, who was “none of these candidates,” will acquiesce to Goodman, who will face GOP incumbent Gov. Brian Sandoval in November.
In January, the Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal to get "none" removed as an option.
CNN's Steve Brusk contributed to this report.