Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider the New Jersey Republicans' effort to keep Frank Lautenberg off the November ballot, we won't get anything but a chuckle out of reports that the Republican candidate, Douglas Forrester, violated the same law in his party's primary. I had hoped for a little bit more.
If you haven't been following the New Jersey race, here's what's happened so far. A month before Election Day, Sen. Robert Torricelli, a man who fuses the upstanding moral citizenship of Dan Rostenkowski with the self-effacing demeanor of Bill Clinton, withdrew from New Jersey's Senate race. The Democrats attempted to substitute a new candidate, Lautenberg, even though the law very plainly stated that it was too late to make such a change. The Republicans objected, but the state courts, in a nakedly political decision, rejected their case.
Now it appears that the Republican candidate may have violated the exact same statute back in April, when he tried to switch ballot positions with another scandal-tarred former candidate, James Treffinger. At the time, Forrester's attorney had written, "Strict compliance to statutory requirements and deadlines within Title 19 are set aside where such rights may be accommodated without significantly impinging upon the election process"—the exact same argument that the Democrats are now making.
We learned in Florida two years ago to distrust such news—to recognize that in such situations, each party will hunt the public record for precedents that might make its case sound better, whether or not they're really applicable. And, sure enough, some have raised legitimate questions as to whether switching a name's position on a ballot is governed by the same statute as the one that restricts when an entirely new name can be tacked on. Since I am not an expert on New Jersey election law, and since so many of the real experts have axes to grind, I'll merely comment that the tale of Republican hypocrisy rings true. Underneath the pious platitudes that both sides intone, elections have more to do with the will to power than the rule of law. That, too, is a lesson of Florida 2000.
It's left for those of us who don't have a dog in the fight to propose a really novel solution: If both candidates broke the law, then why not throw them both off the ballot? Let the voters choose among whatever third parties are offering candidates in the race: the Greens, the Libertarians, the Socialist Workers, whoever. If Lautenberg and Forrester don't like that, then they can do what Anthony Williams did in Washington, D.C., and run write-in campaigns.
Whichever man loses can then fight to revise America's insanely restrictive ballot access laws.