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GOP Takes Ballot Issue to High Court

October 3, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans appealed to the Supreme Court Thursday in hopes of keeping New Jersey Democrats from replacing Sen. Robert Torricelli on the ballot barely a month before the November elections.

Sen. William Frist, chairman of the Senate GOP campaign committee, delivered the request by hand. Republicans want the Supreme Court to block a unanimous ruling from New Jersey’s highest court.

The New Jersey court ruled Wednesday that Democrats may place popular former Sen. Frank Lautenberg on the ballot in place of Torricelli, who was admonished by the Senate this summer after an ethics investigation.

Torricelli said Monday he was dropping out of the campaign against Republican challenger Douglas Forrester out of concern that his party would lose control of the narrowly divided Senate.

Republicans want the high court to rule the New Jersey ruling unconstitutional on grounds that a court and not a state legislature set the ``times, places and manner″ of a congressional election.

The filing also contended that the state court decision could improperly strip voting rights from New Jersey residents overseas, such as those serving abroad in the military. Some ballots have already been mailed with Torricelli’s name on them.

``It is clear that the New Jersey Supreme Court overstepped their authority, overriding the will of the people,″ Frist said after delivering the paperwork. ``The change and switch on the ballot is illegal.″

There was no immediate word on whether the high court would block the ballot move, or hear the Republicans’ broader appeal. GOP election lawyers said they expect an answer within two days.

The request was addressed first to Justice David H. Souter, who handles appeals from New Jersey.

Democrats control the Senate by one seat, so the New Jersey race could be key in the Nov. 5 elections.

The 2000 presidential election set a precedent for the Supreme Court to get involved in state election fights, the GOP argued.

The high court heard two election-related cases after the too-close-to-call voting that year. The decisive Bush v. Gore case ended ballot recounts in Florida sought by Democrat Al Gore, and effectively called the election for George W. Bush.

``If the lower court ruling is allowed to stand, political parties will be encouraged to withdraw losing candidates on the eve of election, replacing them with candidates who have not gone through the rigors of the nomination process in hopes of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat,″ the GOP filing said.

Republicans argue it’s too close to Election Day to replace Torricelli and the Democrats should not be allowed to dump a candidate just because he seems to be trailing.

New Jersey law bars replacement of candidates less than 51 days before an election, the GOP said. Torricelli withdrew 36 days before Election Day.

But the New Jersey court _ composed of four Democrats, two Republicans and an independent _ said it was more important to have a ballot ``bearing the names of candidates of both major political parties″ and that state law didn’t rule out the possibility of a vacant candidacy within 51 days of the election.

Lautenberg, 78, who was chosen Tuesday by party leaders to replace Torricelli, greeted commuters Thursday morning in Hoboken. He then traveled to Washington, where he planned to met with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Torricelli voted on the Senate floor during the day Thursday for the first time since his campaign abdication. He and Lautenberg have a well-chronicled personal dislike for one another, but he said he would do ``everything I can to get Frank Lautenberg elected″ and was exploring ways of making his remaining campaign funds available.

Asked whether his commitment included a willingness to resign _ a step that would permit Gov. James McGreevey to appoint Lautenberg to the seat _ Torricelli bristled. ``You’re irresponsible,″ he replied.

In New Jersey, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda R. Feinberg ordered Democrats to pay the court $800,000 by noon Friday to cover initial costs of reprinting ballots and mailing new absentee ballots.

The state’s 21 county clerks were also ordered to detail how many ballots have been printed, mailed and already received.


On the Net:

Forrester campaign: http://www.forrester2002.com

New Jersey Democrats: http://www.njdems.org

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