Peace through victory - the American way.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

What's a Democracy Without Rules?

The genius of this nation's governing documents is that they set out a legal and clear method for the peaceful succession of power from one government to the next. We've had over 200 years of peaceful transfers of power and one of the reasons for that is everybody buys into the rules and the electoral system. When one party in this country demonstrates that it will not respect the election rules if it doesn't like the result, it undermines respect for elections themselves and threatens our democratic form of government. Here's the latest:

San Diego has a newly elected mayor, the incumbent Dick Murphy, but the loser, Donna Frye, is considering whether to challenge the election results because as she says, "... all of the votes cast were not counted."

Does this sound familiar? Anybody care to guess which parties Murphy and Frye represent in this non-partisan election. Yes, once again, a Democratic candidate is about to challenge the results of an election because her voters were unable to figure out how to vote properly. For a party that has made hay the past four years by mocking the intelligence of Republicans in general and George Bush in particular, Democrats seem to have a rather large base of supporters who can't figure out how to vote. In 2000, it was Florida Democrats who couldn't follow arrows on a butterfly ballot to vote for the right person. In 2004 it's San Diego Democrats who can't follow directions on how to cast a write-in vote. Frye's supporters claim there were several thousand "votes" cast for Frye that aren't being counted because the voters didn't vote properly. California law requires voters to darken an oval next to a candidate's name or the write-in line. Apparently, some of Frye's supporters failed to darken the oval before writing in her name. This, after Frye told her supporters repeatedly while campaigning how to vote correctly. Just which party is the stupid party here?

But this isn't really about who has the dumbest voters, as interesting as that topic might be. No, this is about a lamentable trend in this country of subverting democratic government in the name of democracy. The trend started in 2000 when Al Gore tried to steal the election by arguing that improperly cast votes should be counted in his favor. It continued in 2002 when the New Jersey Democratic Party replaced their Senate candidate after the deadline had passed to place a candidate on the ballot. It continues today in San Diego where an insurgent candidate has run for mayor even though the City Charter appears to prohibit her write-in candidacy and is threatening to overturn the election results by arguing that improperly cast ballots should be counted as votes.

Frye entered the mayoral race after the primary election had narrowed the field to two candidates, Murphy and Ron Roberts. These two candidates are from the Republican Party, are established local politicians, and had faced each other four years before. So the city was being offered more of the same.

In a city that has become more Democratic over time and has gone through some of the worst scandals of its history recently, the situation was ripe for an alternative. Enter Donna Frye, a councilmember who is far from Republican and far from establishment. Before public life she ran a surf shop and she got involved in local politics through environmental activism. She entered the race as write-in candidate, was welcomed into the debates, and finished second just behind Murphy by about 2,000 votes. An incredible performance for a write-in candidate.

But here's the problem. Frye's candidacy might not have been legal. Turns out San Diego's City Charter says that the general election shall have only two candidates, the two highest vote getters from the primary, and that only those two candidates' names shall be printed on the ballot. Yet San Diego's municipal code permits write-in candidates even in the general election for mayor. No court has ruled yet on whether the Charter truly does bar write-in candidates or whether the municipal code provision violates the Charter's apparent prohibition. However, the Court of Appeal that just yesterday turned aside a legal challenge brought by a Roberts supporter, described the Charter provision as being even more restrictive than a San Francisco Charter provision that was recently upheld as a constitutional bar to write-in candidates. (

So, here's the situation we're facing in San Diego. A likely illegal candidate is threatening to overturn the results of an election by claiming that illegal votes cast for her should be counted. All this in the name of democratic government?

But what kind of democracy is it that doesn't follow the rules? Our country was founded to be a nation of laws not of men. The tactics followed by Democrats in recent elections turns that formulation on its head. To them it doesn't appear to matter what the laws are, what matters are the results. That's the lesson of Florida 2000, New Jersey 2002, and San Diego 2004.

There is a very real danger to our democratic form of government from this trend. Democrats have spent the last four years undermining the legitimacy of Bush's presidency. They've done that by, among other things, claiming that he stole the election in Florida, that he was "selected" not elected by the United States Supreme Court, and that the Electoral College is an anti-democratic anachronism. Their repeated challenges to election results is undermining the legitimacy of the electoral system. Ironically, by persisting in challenging election rules in the name of democracy, Democrats are laying the foundation for some party some day to throw out all the rules and establish the dictatorship they fear.




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