- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

Some Democrats charge that George W. Bush stole the presidency, but the truth is that the political thieves in Washington are the Democrats themselves. They stole the Senate through an unconstitutional election in Missouri and an unethical switch in parties by Jim Jeffords of Vermont, and they're trying to maintain their slim hold on the body with very nearly unbelievable shenanigans in New Jersey.
That state's election law, said the New Jersey Supreme Court, should be "liberally construed," but what the court actually did was ignore it. Sen. Robert Torricelli, persuaded by fellow Democrats to get out of the race because he was going to lose it, had missed the deadline for a ballot rewrite. Never mind. The mostly Democratic court made it possible to replace Mr. Torricelli's name with that of former Sen. Frank Lautenberg by acting as if the law's deadline was meaningless.
If the U.S. Supreme Court lets this decision stand, imagine how the face of politics in America will have been changed. Whenever a party's candidate gets far behind in the polls, just talk him into stepping down and find someone more popular. And no matter what the law says, why stop there? If that candidate should also look like a loser, chuck him, too. Keep going until you get it right, and hope the courts keep construing liberally.
All this is important not only because law and fairness should matter, but because the current Democratic advantage in the Senate is just one vote, and one election could make a world's difference on an endless array of issues, such as the Bush judicial nominations that are now being blocked by the Democrats.
That one-vote advantage of the Democrats would not exist, however, if Democrats had not already cheated the Constitution in the Missouri election of 2000. There, the Democratic candidate for the Senate, Gov. Mel Carnahan, was killed in a plane accident, and his Republican opponent, John Ashcroft, postponed campaigning for a week and then campaigned meagerly.
The Carnahan name stayed on the ballot because the deadline for removing it had passed are you paying attention in New Jersey? and that name got the most votes. The Democratic governor who had succeeded Mr. Carnahan, Roger Wilson, in effect declared the deceased Mr. Carnahan the winner and named his widow to replace him in the Senate.
This was a terrible farce that was allowed to happen because of sensitivity about Mr. Carnahan's death and Mr. Ashcroft's decision to play the role of gentleman and not raise a ruckus. But while the writers of the Constitution did not think it necessary to say you cannot elect dead people to the Senate, they did say you can only elect people who are inhabitants of the state in which they are running. Dead people do not inhabit. If you want to argue differently, you then have to explain why it wouldn't be permissible for Republicans to run Abraham Lincoln every now and then.
Something else needs mentioning about the Missouri election, and that's the fact some registered voters were not allowed to vote in St. Louis and that some unregistered voters were allowed to vote. What is more, the polls were kept open past closing time at places where voters were heavily Democratic. Florida is an Election Day horror show, as we all know. St. Louis is worse, some observers say.
Despite all this, the Republicans were still in control of the Senate until Mr. Jeffords switched from Republican to independent with no intervening election. It's true that some Democrats have similarly switched to Republican, thereby bamboozling those voters who supported them because of party affiliation, but the ethical route is to do what Phil Gramm did. As a member of the House, he resigned when he decided not to be a Democrat anymore, and then he ran as a Republican in the next election.
Mr. Jeffords found a happy home among the Democrats not only because he put them in control, but because they applaud many of his ideas, such as increasing spending on education programs that do not work. Yet Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who became majority leader thanks to Mr. Jeffords, changed his thinking on an issue that concerned Mr. Jeffords. Mr. Daschle, it has been noted, had once been against the subsidizing of dairy farmers by billions of dollars and thereby increasing the price of milk to everyone. But Mr. Jeffords needed this pork for the folks back home, and Mr. Daschle had a conversion.
In the presidential election of 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped a Florida recount that would have used different criteria for different voters and would thereby have violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The worst anyone can honestly say about the ruling was that it was arguable. You can say far worse things about the Democrats' fight for the Senate.

Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard Newspapers.


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