Editorial: Cheating democracy

Under a cloud of ethical questions and scandal, embattled Senator Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., withdrew from this year's Senate race, as polls indicated with little more than a month left before election day that his campaign was in trouble.

Last Wednesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that in the wake of Torricelli's exit it would acceptable to replace him with another candidate, former senator Frank Lautenberg, who retired in 1996.

The court's decision is troubling for two reasons. First, although state law sets 51 days before an election as the deadline for making ballot substitutions, the court said it was acting in the best interests of voters in this case by allowing the substitution. However, in essentially overturning the results of a democratic primary election, the court risks making a mockery of voters' interests. And second, unless the U.S. Supreme Court steps in and reverses the decision, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future.

American democracy is based on the sanctity of elections. If a nominee duly elected by voters in a primary can resign and a new nominee can be dictated by party leadership, it necessarily undermines democracy and the concept of voters' choice. For example, if a presidential nominee were trailing in the polls after Labor Day, it would be unfair for the nominee to withdraw from the race and allow the nominating party the power to choose the nominee's replacement.

The court decided that setting this precedent and overturning a primary election was less troubling than allowing a candidate to run unopposed. Yet whether Torricelli's name remains on the ballot--as it probably should, since absentee ballots have already been mailed--Democrats have the time and ability to stage a write-in campaign for Lautenberg. Last summer, Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams successfully waged a write-in campaign after his name was removed from the ballot because his campaign staff included fraudulent names on petitions to qualify him for the election.

A write-in campaign for Lautenberg still gives voters a choice between two major party candidates while maintaining a disincentive in order to prevent future candidates from pulling the same tpye of switch that the Democrats are trying to pull in New Jersey.

When a major party nominee withdraws from the race after the deadline, there must be a disincentive so that voters and not national politicians dictate the Senate's members, as required by the 16th amendment to the Constitution.

The U.S. Supreme Court should reverse the state ruling and Lautenberg should wage a credible campaign as a write-in candidate prior to the November general election.


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