When Rep. Nancy Pelosi picks up the speaker’s gavel early next year her first order of business should be to ignore Howard Dean. The chairman of Mrs. Pelosi’s party has stepped right into a contested congressional race down in Florida’s 13th District where the declared winner, Republican Vern Buchanan, squeaked out a victory over Democrat Christine Jennings by a mere 349 votes.
So what is Mr. Dean’s advice? The Democratic-controlled House should deny Mr. Buchanan his seat in the new Congress without another election, he says. The House does indeed have the right to deny anyone a seat in its chamber. Historically, however, this right is reserved for races that end in near-ties. One of the most well known cases occurred in 1985, when the Democratic-controlled House refused to seat Republican Richard McIntyre. After months of partisan grumbling, a Democratic-controlled task force declared Mr. McIntyre’s Democratic opponent the winner by four votes. Many old Washington hands identify that decision as the beginning of the sour partisanship that has held Washington in thrall for the past two decades.
Mr. Dean should know that the Buchanan-Jennings race doesn’t qualify for this kind of protracted fight. Two recounts have been conducted to confirm Mr. Buchanan’s margin of victory. The state’s Division of Elections just completed an audit on the touch-screen voting machines used in Sarasota County and found no irregularities. But the Jennings camp has persisted in its efforts to get a court-ordered special election and is even canvassing Capitol Hill to drum up support for a congressional inquiry.
In fact, the only bit of evidence that anything at all was out of the ordinary on Election Day is the above-average number of “undervotes” in Sarasota County. Mrs. Jennings, and now Mr. Dean, point to the 18,000 undervotes — ballots cast without a vote in the congressional race — as evidence that something went criminally wrong. But if it wasn’t the voting machines, then what was it?
Setting aside delusional conspiracy theories, there could be a number of reasons. The explanation that seems most logical is that in a Republican county many Republicans were less than thrilled about Mr. Buchanan. Mrs. Pelosi has a choice to make. She could either tell Mrs. Jennings to accept the results like an adult or she could follow Mr. Dean down his partisan-riddled path and forsake whatever honeymoon the American people are willing to grant the new majority. Even the reliably liberal St. Petersburg Times editorialized that “Jennings should concede defeat and the Democratic Party should butt out.”
Mr. Dean seems to think that the American people are so pro-Democrat right now that they’ll accept any effort to unseat Republicans, even if that means overturning certified election results. We think he will find he is horribly mistaken.