Lantz, Kilmer put party first, justice last

News reports of violence in Iraq leading up to their election day sometimes make our own contested gubernatorial election seem like small potatoes.

They are trying to establish a civilization in which political differences are settled with ballots, not bullets; while we are arguing about whether the ballots were legitimately cast and counted.

Many Iraqis are dying, but we are at worst calling each other names.

We Americans didn’t arrive at this stage of civilization by magic. Our ability to elect our leaders was purchased with the blood of those who have gone before us.

Although it may seem like small potatoes in comparison, a legitimate resolution of our current dispute is of vital importance.

The sacrifices made by our forebears will have been in vain if we stop caring whether our ballots legitimately decide our elections — or stop believing that they do.

If any of you wrote to our legislators and received a response, you know that the nature of the responses could be predicted by simply looking to see which political party the legislators belong to.

Political parties serve a vital purpose in a republican form of government, but that purpose cannot be allowed to override the constitution and laws our legislators swear to uphold.

A republic cannot function properly when those who are elected swear to uphold the constitution but then fail to determine what the constitution requires before they cast their votes in the Legislature.

Newly elected 26th District Rep. Derek Kilmer voted with his fellow Democrats to ignore the fact that there was a contested election and to issue a certificate of election to a person who could not reasonably be identified as the legitimately elected governor.

As noted in this column in November, “Party loyalty can be taken too far, so one of Kilmer’s first tasks should be to figure out where to draw the line.”

His explanation was standard fare for members of his party in the Legislature: The contested election should be decided in the courts, and the Legislature was correct to issue a certificate of election without waiting for that decision.

Of course, the constitution he swore to uphold says otherwise — a fact that the Democrats noted in the court proceedings the same day Christine Gregoire took the oath of office.

Rep. Patricia Lantz went even farther by listing various conclusions about the facts and the law despite the absence of a hearing in the Legislature or the courts which could have determined the facts.

The interests of their constituents are not always the same as the interests of their party, but neither Lantz nor Kilmer has demonstrated a willingness to subordinate their party’s interests.

The most important interest of their constituents is the legitimate resolution of the contested election in accordance with the constitution and laws of this state.

Whether the new governor is determined to be Christine Gregoire or Dino Rossi or neither one is of far less importance.

Kilmer is a rookie, and rookies make mistakes; but Lantz has no such excuse.

There is perhaps a silver lining: The mess that our legislators, secretaries of state and county auditors have made of the election laws may finally be examined and corrected.

For those examining our election laws, I strongly recommend my own approach to such tasks: It was always done wrong before, even when I did it.

As much as I hate to admit mistakes, I accept the fact that mistakes are made when enacting laws and issuing regulations — and those errors accumulate until someone sets the laws right again.

Here is a small sampling of the errors I’ve discovered so far.

The printed instructions from the Kitsap County Auditor to the precinct polling place workers complied with neither the law’s requirement that unused ballots be “rendered unusable” and sealed in an envelope or container before the ballot boxes are opened, nor the requirement that they be returned to the ballot counting center at the same time voted ballots are transported there.

No law authorizes the use of the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to cast votes for state or local offices, yet it appears that some county auditors have been accepting it for that purpose.

The constitution provides for filling vacancies that occur in the office of governor, but the statute which establishes a procedure for placing vacant offices on the ballot doesn’t mention the governor’s office.

When the contested election is decided and Gregoire is removed from office, the vacancy can be filled at the general election in November 2005 according to the constitution.

Why isn’t that provision implemented by statute?

If any election of a governor or other statewide officer ends in a tie, the constitution requires the Legislature to choose the person to fill that office by a joint vote of both houses. But the statute says the decision would be made by having the tied candidates draw lots.

The constitution authorizes the Legislature to set the date on which the governor’s term of office will begin and provide for a delay to decide a contested election, but no such delay has been included in the statutes.

Now people willing and able to get it right need to take a close look at the constitution and laws and begin straightening out this mess.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.

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