Both Parties Guilty of Ballot Games

April 12, 2006 · 12:05 AM EDT

While some Democrats are incensed about the way former Majority Leader Tom DeLay chose to exit his race for reelection in Texas 22, both parties are guilty of being coy with election laws, primaries, and filing deadlines to gain a partisan advantage.

Of all the accusations hurled at DeLay, being politically unaware is not one of them. The congressman certainly could have bowed out before the March 7 primary, but he waited another three weeks so he could have direct role in choosing his successor. His move unquestionably gives the Republicans a better chance to hold the seat Bush carried 64%-35% in 2004.

Meanwhile in Illinois 17, Democratic Rep. Lane Evans bowed out of his reelection bid just seven days after the March 21 primary. The congressman’s health (he has Parkinson’s disease) has been a factor for the last decade, but it is remarkable that he couldn’t have decided it had reached a critical point before the filing deadline or even the primary.

Now, Evans’s political decision and timing gives Democrats a decidedly upper-hand. If Evans had decided not to run for reelection, Republicans would have made a harder push to get a better candidate in a district Kerry only won 51%-48%. Now, Democrats have the freedom to choose their own nominee, without a pesky multi-candidate primary, while Republicans, according to state law, are left to boost their nominee’s (former television anchor Andrea Zinga) chances as best they can.

Other blatant ballot maneuvers include Rep. Bill Lipinski (D, IL-3) dropping out of his race in late August 2002 to ensure his son Dan would replace him in Congress. And in 2004, Rep. Rodney Alexander (LA-5) first filed for reelection as a Democrat but re-filed as a Republican just hours before the filing deadline, leaving him with no general election opposition and permanent enemies within his former party.

But one of the most notorious ballot maneuvers was in 2002 when embattled Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli (NJ) took himself out of the race on September 30, just five weeks before the general election. Millionaire businessman Doug Forrester (R) was on his way to knocking off the incumbent, but instead faced then-former Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), the hand-picked nominee.

Sometimes there are extraordinary circumstances (death, for example) where a nominee is unable to be on the ballot. But more often than not these days, politicians are scouring filing deadlines and state laws in an effort to subvert the actual voting portion of democracy.

This column first appeared on Political Wire on April 9, 2006.