One Final Civics Lesson

, Paul M. Weyrich, Leave a comment

I am worried that the race for Senator in Minnesota in effect will be run by the U.S. Senate. When one has been around as long as I have, one has seen things that seem familiar. In the 1974 New Hampshire election, one of the state’s two congressmen, Louis Wyman, ran for the U.S. Senate. On election night Mr. Wyman won by 355 votes but his opponent demanded a recount. After all the disputed ballots were counted, Mr. Wyman’s opponent, John Durkin, was certified the winner of the Senate seat by ten votes. After another recount Mr. Wyman won by two votes.

Then Mr. Durkin appealed to the U.S. Senate, which, under Article I, Section 5, of the Constitution, is the final arbiter of such disputes. The Senate leadership declared the seat vacant. They told Gov. Meldrim Thomson to appoint an interim Senator. He brought back retired Sen. Norris Cotton, paving the way for another Wyman-Durkin race. On August 8, 1975 a special election was held, which Mr. Durkin won. He served in the Senate until 1980.

The same scenario might play out in the Minnesota Senate race. Democratic candidate Al Franken has lost the recount. He may well lose the count of disputed ballots, too, if the election board allows them to be counted. At that point, if Mr. Franken can’t prevail in federal court, he may turn to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Sen. Reid could have the U.S. Senate wade into the disputed ballots, as Democrats did in a disputed election for a House seat some years ago. More likely, however, Sen. Reid would have the seat declared vacant, forcing candidates Sen. Coleman and Mr. Franken into another election.

Democrats naturally hope to achieve a 60-40 filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate, so it would not be surprising to see them concentrate their resources in Minnesota and deliver the state for Mr. Franken. As the former Director of the Senate Republican Conference said to me the other day, “Nothing could demean the Senate as an institution more than to have Franken as a member.” Perhaps, but that will be up to the citizens of Minnesota to decide. The reason Mr. Franken is so persistent and will not concede is because he cannot believe that all of those hundreds of thousands of Obama voters would not have voted for him for Senate. As it stands now, lots of folks did not want to support Sen. Coleman but did not care to vote for Mr. Franken either. If Minnesota were to require another election to solve the dispute, the dynamics of the election would be entirely different.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.