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NEW YORK'S ELECTION FOLLIES

You had to love it. New York Democrats, acting on a cherished belief in free elections, their historic commitment to government of, by and for the people and the indescribable joy of jamming a stick in George Bush's spokes, moved this week to thwart Republican efforts to rig their presidential primary. It didn't work, but good for them.

Let's be honest. New York's Democrats care about the Republican primary only insofar as it benefits them. They think they can weaken Bush by helping to put John McCain's name on state ballots, so that's what they're for. If they could have helped their cause by keeping him off, they'd have been for that. In politics, ethics are decidedly situational, and nowhere more so than in New York.

But that doesn't mean it wasn't a good job, anyway. Nowhere does it say that shameless self-interest and the public good are mutually exclusive concepts and, in this case, they coincided nicely.

State Republican leaders, wielding a law designed to restrict ballot access to presidential candidates of whom they don't approve, are making a ham-fisted attempt to be sure their voters see only Bush's name on the March primary ballot.

Democrats, ever the opportunists, tried to trip them up this week. State law says that before a candidate's name can be removed from a ballot, three of the state's four election commissioners have to agree. There are two commissioners of each party and normally, they scratch each other's backs in such matters.

Not this time. Democrats decided to let the Republicans itch and, given the circumstances, you couldn't help but smile at the GOP's discomfort.

It didn't last long. Republican leaders immediately went to court, where a judge ruled that election commissioners have no authority to interpret the law. The result, so far, is that McCain has been removed from ballots in about a quarter of New York's congressional districts, including several in Western New York.

Republican leaders are pleased, but it's hard to believe their disenfranchised voters see the humor. They are being denied the right to influence the selection of their nominee and, in the end, that hurts all New Yorkers. How does it benefit anyone in this state if presidential candidates don't have to work for our votes? Bush is being given a bye in the nation's third-biggest state. He doesn't have to care about us.

Now, the fight has widened. Party leaders have also knocked Steve Forbes off the ballot in three Long Island districts and, in retaliation, Forbes is attacking Bush petitions in six New York City districts. Meanwhile, McCain has taken his case against the party politburo to federal court.

This is not a primary, it's a free-for-all for lawyers and party hacks. They are trying to hijack the election from the state's Republican voters. If Democrats, regardless of their motives, helped to shine a light at what goes on underneath the rocks in the Republican primary, more power to them.

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