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N.J. Senate Dispute Argued

THE NATION

Supreme Court: GOP, Democrats make cases in writing over replacing Torricelli on the ballot.

October 05, 2002|DAVID G. SAVAGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — New Jersey Democrats urged the Supreme Court on Friday to stay away from their Senate ballot dispute, saying that neither Republican candidate Douglas Forrester nor the state's voters are hurt by the late switch on the Democratic side.

The high court rarely intervenes in pending disputes and does so only where a delay will cause "an irreparable harm."

The Democrats' lawyers said the GOP had failed to meet that strict legal standard.

"There is no reasonable argument that Forrester himself is injured," they said. "While he claims the voters 'risk effective disenfranchisement,' every one of them remains able to vote for him, regardless of who else is on the ballot."

Other states allow ballot substitutions just weeks before the election, the Democrats noted. For example, Connecticut law says vacancies can be filled seven days before the election. Georgia and Idaho allow changes up to 10 days before the election, and Illinois allows substitutions 15 days before balloting, the Democrats said.

No one has asserted that these late changes violate the constitutional rights of the opposing candidates or the voters, they say.

California law forbids filling a vacancy within 68 days of the election.

Citing that provision, California Secretary of State Bill Jones joined the case on the side of the New Jersey Republicans, saying he feared "a wave of similar lawsuits" across the nation if the parties are allowed to replace candidates who appear to be losing in the month before the election.

"As California's chief elections officer, I was appalled at the recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision," Jones said. If it is allowed to stand, political parties will be tempted to try the same scheme when their candidates are sinking in the polls, he said.

"California is very strict about getting on or off the ballot," said William P. Wood, chief counsel for the secretary of state in Sacramento. "Basically, you have to die 68 days before the election."

Despite that rule, an Orange County candidate was put on the ballot in July to fill the vacancy created when disgraced Superior Court Judge Ronald C. Kline removed himself from the ballot because he was facing child pornography charges.

New Jersey law said party leaders can fill a vacancy on the ballot 51 days before the election. But after scandal-tainted Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) withdrew on Monday, the state Supreme Court agreed on Wednesday that his place could be filled by former Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg. Its judges said they did so in order to give the voters "a full and fair choice."

Forrester and the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee have urged the Supreme Court to block the switch and to rule it unconstitutional.

Separately, the Republican lawyers filed a lawsuit in federal court in Trenton, N.J., asserting that overseas military personnel might be confused or prevented from voting by the late switch on the Democratic side. A hearing will be held on the claim Monday.

The Supreme Court justices have had no response to the emergency appeal from New Jersey. Their term begins Monday.

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