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N.J. Supreme Court OKs Senate race substitution

P By David Robinson

The Daily Princetonian
Princeton University

pRINCETON, N.J., Oct. 3 – With just 34 days left until election day, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously Wednesday night that Democrats may substitute retired Sen. Frank Lautenberg for incumbent Robert Torricelli, who surprised the nation by dropping out of the Senate race on Monday.

New Jersey state law allows parties to name new candidates to replace those who drop out, but sets a deadline of 51 days before the general election for a replacement to be made. In court Wednesday, Republicans argued that putting Lautenberg in Torricelli’s place after the deadline was an unlawful strategy to boost the likelihood of a Democratic victory.

But the court found that the need to allow voters to choose a candidate from either of the major parties is more important than the literal text of the law.

“The interests of justice require” that the election be a full and fair ballot choice for the voters of New Jersey,” wrote Chief Justice Deborah Poritz.

At the same time, the court ruled that New Jersey’s Democratic party – not the state government – will be required to pay the estimated $800,000 cost of printing new ballots.

The court’s ruling called on a local Mercer County judge to oversee the process, and asked her to prepare an explanatory letter to be sent out to all voters with the revised ballots.

In the last few weeks, Torricelli fell behind in his race against Republican challenger Douglas Forrester, who focused his campaign on Torricelli’s ethical lapses. Explaining the decision to drop out, Torricelli said on Tuesday that his absence from the race would give Democrats a better chance of holding on to the seat – and control of the Senate.

In court Wednesday, Democrats led by lawyer Angelo Genova persuaded the Court that the legal deadline was simply designed to give officials enough time to print ballots. The Legislature did not mean for the law to stop either party from taking part in the general election, Genova said.

The state’s Attorney General David Samson told the Court that printing new ballots would be costly and difficult but “administratively feasible.”

While the arguments unfolded in court, state Democratic officials negotiated the transfer of Torricelli’s campaign funds to the newly-launched Lautenberg campaign.

Torricelli and Lautenberg, though both Democrats, clashed frequently when they both represented New Jersey in the Senate, leading some Democrats to express concern earlier this week that Torricelli might not be willing to give his money to Lautenberg. In an apparent triumph of party affiliation over personal feeling, however, Torricelli’s campaign staff was hard at work Wednesday night planning a launch party for the Lautenberg campaign.

Calling the decision a loss for the “rule of law,” Forrester vowed last night to appeal the state court’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. “A few powerbrokers read public opinion polls and concluded that I was going to beat Bob Torricelli, and decided to change the rules of the game,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the New Jersey Supreme Court has now decided that New Jersey law, as written, should not apply to this election.”

“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,” Republican state chairman Joe Kyrillos said in a statement.

Both sides discussed the roughly 1,400 ballots that have already been mailed to New Jersey residents who are serving overseas in the military. Republicans argued that there is no fair way to count these ballots if ones listing different candidates are used on Election Day. Democrats argued that there is still time to send new, updated ballots to those who have received the old ones.

“What strikes me as odd about this is that we’ve had so many regulations over the years trying to regulate parties, and movements to create primaries and take things out of the hands of bosses,” said visiting Princeton University professor Hadley Arkes. “And now here’s a situation that when things get tough and the primary choice isn’t working, the party bosses can dispatch the candidate and replace him with another.”

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