- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

The New Jersey Supreme Court yesterday agreed to let Democrats replace the name of embattled Sen. Robert G. Torricelli with that of Frank Lautenberg on the ballot in next month's election.
The court allowed the change even though the state's deadline for ballot changes has passed, saying it is "in the public interest and the general intent of the election laws to preserve the two-party system."
"The court's decision is well-balanced," said Angelo J. Genova, a lawyer for state Democrats. He said it backs "voter choice."
Republican Senate candidate Douglas Forrester last night called the ruling "flawed," saying that "the people of New Jersey lost."
"The Torricelli-Lautenberg machine's disregard for the rule of law, fair elections and the people of New Jersey will, once again, make our great state the butt of national jokes," he warned.
Mr. Forrester repeated earlier vows made by his lawyers to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, "to ensure that the men and women of our military will not be disenfranchised and that the rule of law will be upheld."
Mr. Torricelli, who has been embroiled in an ethics controversy, dropped out of the Senate race Monday after polls showed him lagging behind Mr. Forrester. Democrats announced late Tuesday they want former Sen. Frank Lautenberg to take Mr. Torricelli's place on the ballot.
New Jersey state law says a statewide candidate can drop out 51 days or more before the election. Mr. Torricelli dropped out with 36 days left.
The court cited precedents and said election law should be "liberally construed" in order "to allow candidates to get on the ballot, to allow parties to put their candidates on the ballot, and most importantly, to allow the voters a choice on Election Day."
In the unanimous ruling, the court said Democrats will have to pay all costs for reprinting the ballots and that distributing substitutes for the military and overseas absentee ballots must take priority.
Mr. Genova had argued to the court that voters would be confused if Mr. Torricelli's name remains on the ballot next month.
"I think he has effectively created a vacancy by his withdrawal. He's not a candidate. He's not a candidate for public office," Mr. Genova told the court, which is composed of four Democrats, two Republicans and one independent.
Mr. Genova said the 51-day law is intended to ensure there is enough time to prepare ballots. He said that because only about 1,600 ballots have been mailed out, there is enough time to make new ones.
Republican attorneys argued that the law is clear and the election has begun.
"I believe the statute should be enforced as it presently reads. We don't believe there are any extraordinary circumstances," said Peter Sheridan, a lawyer for the state Republican Party.
Mr. Baroni had argued that it is not feasible to reprint absentee ballots, send them to voters out of state and military personnel overseas, and guarantee their return in time for the election.
"Their right to vote matters," he said.
In Washington, Alex Vogel, a lawyer for the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, told reporters that the Republican Party and Mr. Forrester would ask the U.S. Supreme Court this morning to stay the New Jersey ruling, in effect freezing Mr. Lautenberg's name off the ballot.
Mr. Vogel also said a separate federal suit would be filed in New Jersey on behalf of overseas military personnel who have requested absentee ballots.
"Federal law requires they should already have gone out," Mr. Vogel said. He added that the state Supreme Court's ruling does not make it clear when those ballots would be distributed.
Besides criticizing the decision, Mr. Forrester also asked his state's voters not to reward the Democrats for their maneuvers should they succeed in changing the ballot.
He said the people of New Jersey "understand what has transpired over the past few days. A few power brokers read public opinion polls and concluded that I was going to beat Bob Torricelli, and decided to change the rules of the game. The good people of New Jersey will not allow these political games to win the day."
But Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called it "a common sense ruling" and the "right decision."
"The people of New Jersey will have the opportunity to vote on a fair ballot that offers a real choice between a Democrat and a Republican," she said. "They will choose the candidate who clearly reflects the values of New Jersey."
Meanwhile, Mr. Lautenberg, a wealthy businessman who was first elected to the Senate in 1982 and retired two years ago, prepares to emerge from retirement at age 78. He is set to meet today with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
While in the Senate, Mr. Lautenberg was ranking member of the Budget Committee, and Congressional Quarterly's annual studies of party-vote loyalty said he strongly backed his party in the 1990s with his annual loyalty rates ranging from 84 percent to 94 percent.
The Senate is preparing for a historic debate on a resolution to allow military action against Iraq. But an aide to Mr. Lautenberg declined yesterday to comment on his boss's position on the issue, saying "we're only 12 hours into this" campaign effort.
Mr. Lautenberg was given positive ratings by the AFL-CIO, earning a 100 percent from the group in 1996. In 2000, he was given a 90 percent rating on his voting record from the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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