GOP to appeal NJ Torricelli ballot change

Oct. 2, 2002 at 10:56 PM
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TRENTON, N.J., Oct. 2 (UPI) -- The New Jersey State Republican Committee said Wednesday it will fight all the way to the Supreme Court the state court's decision allowing Democrats to replace Sen. Robert G. Torricelli's name on the ballot in the upcoming general election.

"The Torricelli-Lautenberg-switcharoo has made our state, once again, the butt of national jokes, with news commentators across the nation shaking their heads and saying 'only in New Jersey,'" said Joe Kyrillos, chairman of the state's GOP committee.

"This is a brazen attempt to undermine democracy and we will fight it all the way to the United States Supreme Court."

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the substitution of Frank Lautenberg for Torricelli as the Democratic candidate should occur on all ballots -- including absentee and military ballots, some 1,600 of which already have been mailed.

The court ordered that all parties meet Thursday to implement the order and that the Democratic Party bear the cost of the ballot change, estimated at about $800,000.

"It is outrageous the state Supreme Court would allow Democrat Party bosses to remove their candidate from the ballot in the middle of an election for no other reason than for fear they will lose," said Kyrillos.

"If Democrats have their way and are allowed to change candidates in the middle of the election, what would stop any party, at any level of office, to replace their candidate at any point in the campaign?"

According to Kyrillo, election laws are to ensure an orderly and fair democratic process, and they cannot be disregarded just because a party doesn't want to lose.

New Jersey Democrats chose 78-year-old Frank Lautenberg late Tuesday as their new candidate after Torricelli abruptly withdrew from the race Monday.

A Newark Star-Ledger poll Sunday showed Torricelli trailing his Republican opponent, Douglas Forrester, by 13 points after an ethics controversy, and pollsters have said he was all but certain to lose the November election. The Democrats currently hold a one-seat advantage in the Senate.

Lautenberg said he was looking forward to "the shortest campaign I've been engaged" in. Co-founder and chief executive officer of Automatic Data Processing from 1952 to 1982, he was New Jersey's senator from 1983 to 2000.

Forester and New Jersey Republicans had fought the move, saying it "undermined the democratic process."

However, the seven-member panel of judges agreed with the attorney for the Democrats, Angelo Genova, who cited a precedent involving a candidate who had died in 1952.

That precedent stated: "It is in the public interest and the general intent of the election laws to preserve the two-party system and to submit to the electorate a ballot bearing the names of those major political parties as well as of all qualifying parties and groups."

According to Genova: "The court in this state is disinterested to how a vacancy occurs, whether it's illness, death or will.

"It's about the voters having a fundamental right to a choice and under the rule of law, voters should not have to deal with a confusing ballot, which would occur if Torricelli's name remained on it," Genova said.

According to Genova, the filing deadlines for the state ballot were only an "administrative convenience and not a right to run unopposed."

Genova had argued that the spirit of the election law was to make sure there was sufficient time in which to carry out an election, but there was more than enough time to have ballots reprinted and mailed out again, if necessary, to absentee voters and voters in the armed forces overseas.

New Jersey voters have several choices for senator, but Genova argued that Democrats deserve a standard bearer.

In addition to Democrat Torricelli and Republican Forrester, there is Ted Glick of the Green Party, Elizabeth Macron for the Libertarians, Socialist Party candidate Gregory Pason, and Norman Wahner for the Conservatives.

"This was a desperate backroom deal by Democrats because they knew Forrester was going to win," Mark Pfeifle, a Forrester spokesman, told United Press International.

"We know at least five counties have sent military ballots to our sons and daughters fighting for freedom overseas. The election process is under way."

According to Pfeifle, a candidate cannot be removed from the ballot 51 days before a statewide election.

"Changing the ballot is nearly unprecedented in this country. In Hawaii, Rep. Patsy Mink just passed away and her name will still appear on the ballot in November. In 2000, Mel Carnahan died and his name stayed on the ballot," said Kyrillos.

"But, in the case of Torricelli's campaign, there have been no extraordinary developments that would preclude him from remaining a valid candidate -- he hasn't been indicted or convicted, he didn't die and he isn't sick. The only new development in Torricelli's candidacy was that recent polls have said he was not going to win."

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