Move over, Ed Rollins

December 02, 1993|By Mona Charen

THE REPUBLIC -- or at least the chattering class -- has been convulsed by Ed Rollins' boastful claim of using "walking-around money" to suppress the black vote in New Jersey. It has been front-page news for weeks.

And why not? It fit, or seemed to fit, the categories the media love -- big bad Republicans being unfair to black people. (Republicans are, by the way, unwise in not pursuing the black vote more zestfully, but that is their loss -- Republicans being unfair to themselves, if you will.)

But lest we slide too comfortably into old cliches, let's pause a moment to consider another Election-Day story, which has Philadelphia buzzing but has been ignored by the national press.

On the same day that voters in New Jersey (including about a quarter of black voters) exacted their revenge upon tax-raising Gov. Jim Florio, the people of Philadelphia were voting in a special election for the state Senate. Since the Pennsylvania Senate was composed of 24 Democrats and 25 Republicans, the special election between Republican Bruce Marks and Democrat William Stinson would determine control of the body. If Mr. Stinson won, the Senate would be divided 25 to 25. With the Democratic lieutenant governor casting votes in a tie, the Democrats would dominate. A Marks victory would mean Republican control.

Now some people may claim to have been scandalized that Ed Rollins might -- might -- have tried to discourage black voting. But the Democrats who controlled the Senate in Pennsylvania were not above racial calculations themselves. When a Senate seat became available in early January, they put off a special election until July so that Democratic control could be maintained until after passage of the state budget.

In late May, another seat opened when a Democratic senator died (the first had won a seat in Congress, which some view as dying and going to heaven). Now, with the budget passed, the Democrats had to decide when to hold a special election to fill the vacancy. The usual period is 60 days.

But the Democrats in Pennsylvania had other thoughts. They knew that minority voter turnout to fill one seat in the state Senate would be light. Better, they calculated, to schedule the special election for November, when a full Democratic slate could bring out more of "their" voters.

it turned out, the Democratic candidate had extracurricular plans for increasing voter turnout as well.

The race for the 2nd District Senate seat was close and hard-fought, but when the smoke had cleared, the Democrat, Mr. Stinson, was the narrow winner. Or was he?

In a series of front-page exposes, the Philadelphia Inquirer uncovered a pattern of fraud and deception that had the unmistakable aroma of old-fashioned election stealing.

It turns out that Mr. Marks, the Republican, won the election at the voting machines by 562 votes. But there was a surprisingly large number of absentee ballots cast in this race -- more than 1,900 out of a total vote of 40,000. And guess what. The Democrat, Mr. Stinson, won the absentee ballots by a stunning 1,391 to 366, thus edging ahead as the winner.

As chronicled by the Inquirer, Stinson campaign workers had blanketed Hispanic neighborhoods in the district, telling voters of "la nueva forma de votar," the new way of voting. Vote from the comfort of your own home, they urged. Just sign here.

Pennsylvania law is quite clear. Absentee ballots are legal only for those physically unable to reach the polls because of illness or other disability or those away on business travel. The "new way of voting" was actually a very old way of committing fraud. The Inquirer discovered evidence of widespread forgery as well. Nor was it just the able-bodied who used absentee ballots. The Marks campaign believes that a number of dead people responded to the Stinson campaign's plea to vote absentee.

Mr. Stinson has been sworn in, and Mr. Marks is pursuing his remedies in state and federal court. U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter has called for a criminal investigation.

This is a tale of political skulduggery, cynicism and rank fraud to make Ed Rollins look like the tooth fairy. The Inquirer deserves full credit for uncovering it. But where is the national outcry?

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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