Calif: NJ ruling a bad election precedent

Oct. 5, 2002 at 5:03 AM
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SACRAMENTO, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- California's Secretary of State, Bill Jones -- a Republican -- has filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn the New Jersey court's decision to allow the Democratic Party of New Jersey to replace Sen. Robert Torricelli on the upcoming election's ballot.

"Jones is very concerned about the potential precedents it could set in terms of federal elections in California," said Jones' spokeswoman Beth Miller Friday.

"It worked once spectacularly, they will say. It can work again," the friend-of-the-court brief said.

Michigan, Florida, Washington and South Carolina are among other states "joining the bandwagon," Fox News Channel reported.

According to court papers, the underlying decision has far-reaching implications for the orderly conduct of elections in every state, including California.

Jones, as the chief elections officer in the state of California, said any statewide action like that ordered by the New Jersey Supreme Court would make the Nov. 5 election impossible to conduct.

California has 15 million registered voters and absentee voting has begun. Jones said overseas military and civilian voting is long underway. Millions of ballots in tens of thousands of different ballot styles have been printed and shipped to the state's 58 counties.

"Voters have read and been guided by the candidates listed and described in the statutorily mandated statewide voter ballot pamphlet, mailed to more than 11 million households," said court documents.

Although the New Jersey Supreme Court's order has no binding precedential effect on California, or indeed any other state, it nevertheless will trigger a wave of similarly damaging and destructive claims throughout the United States and in California, according to Jones.

"It will, if allowed to stand, encourage candidate substitutions after voter choices have been made, in effect nullifying the will of the voters as expressed at a primary election. It will also encourage other ballot manipulations to gain partisan advantage," the brief said.

"The secretary of state believes this will have an adverse effect on voter participation in California by potentially disenfranchising voters and stimulating voter cynicism that the electoral process is neither fair nor consistent."

The California brief also said that the New Jersey decision must be overturned because it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

"Integral to the New Jersey Supreme Court's Order is the requirement that the state Democratic Party, deposit $800,000 to a trust fund that will be used to cover the cost of implementing the newly created statewide tasks involved in switching one candidate for another so close to the general election," court papers said.

Minor political parties exist in both states, but no minor political party is likely to have the financial ability to cover the cost of a late ballot change.

"It gravely harms the election process when, by court order and not legislative deliberation or popular wish, wealthy political parties can manipulate the process while the voters and minor political parties are left out of the process," the court document said.

Douglas Forrester, the Republican challenger to Torricelli, and the New Jersey Republican Party asked for a hearing by the full Supreme Court Thursday and for an immediate stay of any action ordered by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

They want the top court to overturn the New Jersey decision, claiming replacing Torricelli with former Sen. Frank Lautenberg is in direct violation of the United States Constitution -- Article 1, Section 4, the Elections Clause. "It mandates that state legislatures determine the time, manner and place of elections."

Democrats countered that the GOP nominee had no "standing" to enter the case since the case before the New Jersey Supreme Court involved Democrats and state officials and that Forrester could not show that he is being harmed.

Torricelli, first elected to Congress in 1982 and to the Senate in 1996, originally led in the polls but fell behind by more than 10 points after allegations he took gifts from a campaign contributor. He withdrew from the race Monday because, "I not intend, to be the cause of the Democratic Party losing its one-seat majority in the U.S. Senate."

"Basically the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the issue and we feel it has nothing to do with federal law, so there is no reason for the Supreme Court to pick it up," Tovah Ravitz, spokeswoman for Democratic Senate Campaign Committee told United Press International earlier in the week. "I have a hard time believing the justices will want to keep a candidate who has dropped out of the race on the ballot."

According to Kevin Sheridan, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, if the New Jersey decision is upheld it could create a chaotic precedent.

"We believe in the rule of law and the law in New Jersey said no candidate can drop out of a race 51 days before the election," Sheridan told UPI. "Apparently the Democrats feel they are entitled to a majority in the Senate and will attempt to go around the law to get it -- they play for keeps."

Sheridan said the GOP believed there are probably eight races too close to call at this moment and that the Republicans feel they have four really good chances in Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota and New Jersey.

"It's hypocritical for Tom Daschle to say the New Jersey Senate race needs to be a two-party race because there are several Senate races where the incumbent is unopposed or with token opposition," he said.

The Supreme Court is in recess but the new term begins Monday.

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