No Senate for you!

Zach Wiita

One of the greatest aspects of American political culture is our traditional adherence to the rules of liberal democracy. In our society we are ruled by law rather than men, elections are held at regular intervals, the person who wins the largest number of votes assumes office, and the person who loses the election gracefully concedes the race. These basic principles have kept our country running for more than 200 years – yet to hear many members of the Republican Party speak today, you’d think the United States was more of a banana than constitutional republic.

Take the example of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Prosecuted for corruption by the Bush Justice Department and found guilty, Stevens’ conviction was overturned when the new Attorney General, Eric Holder, reviewed the case and determined that Justice’s lawyers had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct – an assessment shared by Judge Emmet Sullivan.

Unfortunately for Stevens, he narrowly lost his bid for re-election to the Senate to Democrat Mark Begich due in part to that conviction. Well, you win some, you lose some. Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes you lose an election for reasons out of your control.

Not so fast, says Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and state party chair Randy Ruedrich. According to an April 2 article from Politico, they have called upon Senator Begich to resign his seat and run against Stevens again in a special election.

Now, just pause and think about that. Because the person that they liked didn’t win an election, these people think that they ought to hold the election again. The entire concept stands in defiance of American democracy.

Yes, it’s unfortunate that Stevens apparently lost because voters held untrue beliefs about him – but by that logic, a huge percentage of election results throughout the United States would have to be nullified since most voters hold at least some untrue beliefs about their candidates’ opponents. You don’t invalidate election results simply because they weren’t what you wanted.

Sure, maybe most Alaskans would have voted for Stevens if his conviction had been thrown out before November – and maybe most Americans would have voted for John Kerry if Hurricane Katrina had hit the Gulf Coast in August 2004. That doesn’t mean there should have been a special election in 2005. The rule is the rule: Whoever wins the election takes office until his or her term is up.

That’s not the only example of a basic rule of democracy being disregarded. If you don’t follow Senate politics, you may not have heard about this, but Minnesota is currently without a junior U.S. senator. Norm Coleman (R) was originally declared the victor in his race against former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Al Franken (D), but the margin of victory was narrow enough that it triggered the state’s automatic recount laws.

Since then, Franken has consistently been found to be the victor, albeit narrowly, in recount after recount. The Coleman campaign has continued filing lawsuits to get the votes re-counted and to get ballots previously thrown out reconsidered – and this keeps increasing Franken’s margin of victory.

At the moment, Coleman is considering appealing to the state supreme court. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has threatened “World War III,” according to Politico, if the Democrats try to seat Franken before Coleman has had a chance to pursue a case in federal court – even though he acknowledges that this process could take years.

In other words, the candidate we like did not win, so we will use the state and federal judicial systems to prevent him from taking office for years.

It’s reasonable to demand a recount or two if the margin is close. Certainly the Democrats demanded the same in 2000 when it was unclear whether Al Gore or George W. Bush had won the popular vote in Florida. But recall that Gore conceded. When count after count certifies one winner and nobody has assumed office six months after an election and three months after the term commences, we’re no longer looking at a case of people trying to guarantee that no one’s voice goes unheard. We’re looking at a deliberate attempt to obstruct the democratic process in the service of a partisan agenda.

It’s unfortunate that the Republican Party is choosing to undermine American democracy. The United States and its parties have always stood as a model of constitutional democracy to the rest of the world. In attempting to obstruct the operation of our republic, the Republicans are turning their back on our common heritage. One can only hope that in an age of political extremism this doesn’t represent a larger trend toward popular disregard for democracy and the rule of law.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theatre studies

major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].