46th Governor of Missouri
Birthdate: February 11, 1934
Family: Married; four children
Spouse: Jean
Religion: Baptist
Party: Democrat
Elected: November 1992, 1996
Term Expires: January 2001

Died, October 17, 2000, in a plane crash in Jefferson County, the plane was thought to have Mel Carnahan, his son Roger, and senior campaign advisor Chris Sifford on board.

Re-elected anyway. His wife, Jean Carnahan is expected to serve his term.

I have been trying to wrap my brain around this one:

Governor Carnahan from Missouri was behind in the polls until he died tragically in a plane crash a couple weeks before the vote. Now, it's one thing not to speak ill of the dead or the mourning, but quite another to elect him as a senator. God bless America.
He won the election. The incumbent, John Ashcroft, lost to a dead man. Carnahan's wife will be filling in for him. Somehow, this brings to mind an image of her with a Ouija board.

Are there unseen advantages to having deceased politicians? (Like, for example, you just can't trust the living ones.) Is this going to start a trend? Will people be dying to get into office?
But seriously, I find it rather odd that there is no system in place for dealing fairly, and sensibly, with the death of a candidate.

According to a recent Associated Press article, "Some Republicans had argued that at the time of the election, Carnahan was not -- as the U.S. Constitution requires -- a Missouri inhabitant, because he was dead."

The precedents this sort of thing could set are mind-boggling. Could I campaign for the Senate on under the name of of, say, my late uncle Bob? What if a living Senator decided he didn't want to do the job any longer -- could he send his wife in finish his term up?

I suppose it's fair to say that the voters knew they were really voting for Carhanan's widow instead of for the man himself, but it wasn't her name on the ballot. I really don't see how she can be legally construed as the winner.

The question, though, is who else should replace Mr. Carnahan. I don't see how it can automatically be the Republican candidate, unless you consider him as having run unopposed. The other thing to do would be to interpret the 17th Amendment as applying to this case: "When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies", leaving it up to the new governor to choose the Senator's replacement.

Technically, Ashcroft May Have Won That Election

While I am no lawyer, I read there is a legal case that Ashcroft could have made. And anyway, the quantity and quality of twisted sh*it that went down makes an amazing story.

Before the 17th Amendment, Senators were not elected at all, rather, they were appointed by each state, typically by the Governor. The Framers intended for the Senate to be an elite body that was less vulnerable than the House of Representatives to the whims of the masses. Together, the Constitution and the 17th Amendment (as mblase points out) specifies that the states get to determine the gritty details of how candidates qualify for the ballot, how elections are run, what happens if people die, and so on, so long as the state laws don't violate any specific provisions of the Constitution, or constitutional doctrines such as one man one vote.

Under Missouri law, the state has the power to appoint someone to fill a vacant seat, and so Jean Carnahan was appointed to the vacant seat her husband had "won". The problem is, the Constitution is specific as to who is eligible to become a Senator: "No person shall be a Senator . . . who shall not, when elected, be an inhabitant of that State for which he has been chosen." (Article I, Section 3). In the well established, legal meaning of the term, dead people are not "inhabitants". Missouri law says what should happen if an elected official dies before they are able to take office, but is less clear about what happens if an eligible candidate becomes ineligible before the election occurs. Absent any state law specific to the situation1, all votes for that candidate are presumably null and void, the equivalent of voting for Mickey Mouse or other popular but ineligible write-in candidates. That would mean that of the eligible candidates, Ashcroft got the most votes, the Senate seat was never vacant, and the appointment of Jean Carnahan was moot.

Now, I am not saying I wish Ashcroft had made this challenge! It would have been incredibly rancorous and divisive. He wisely concluded that if he couldn't get more votes than a dead man, he really didn't deserve to be in office, remarking in his concession speech, "some things are more important than politics." After an extremely partisan and bitter (on both sides) Senate race, which Ashcroft was winning before his opponents death bounce in the polls, this simple act of grace and statesmanship was remarkable. Doubly so when you consider the stakes -- his concession meant the Senate would be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, and the country still didn't know which party would win the Vice-Presidency, and therefore the power to break ties in the Senate.

What a stark and pleasant contrast to how the whole Bush-Gore mess finally played out.

The decorum didn't last long. Soon, Democrats managed to finesse a one-seat majority in the Senate by inducing a Vermont Senator, Jim Jeffords, to "discover" that he had been elected as a Republican but was in fact an independent -- right after he "discovered" his state would get a massive dairy subsidy he'd been after for years.2 Meanwhile, President Bush had finessed his way into office and nominated the defeated Ashcroft to be his Attorney General. During the Senate confirmation vote, the "accidental Senator", Jean Carnahan, decided to "vote her conscience" -- she voted against confirming Ashcroft to the post!

All in all, I'd say this is one for the history books.




1. Having read kto9's write-up, and the Missouri law he cites, it appears the legal case is less clear cut. I've changed the title of my write-up to include the words "May Have". In my defense, I'll point out that the Democrats arranged for the polls to stay open late in a major urban district that heavily favored them, in an eerie echo of the various tactics both parties tried in Florida. Thanks to kto9 for pointing out the article (http://stumedia.tsp.utexas.edu/webarchive/11-09-00/2000110906_s02_Ashcroft.html). The MO laws cited by kto9 had never been applied to these precise circumstances; lawyers might argue its better to have the challenge so that there is a precedent for future elections, even if the challenge failed. The Constitutional provision might trump aspects of the state law, and the Senate might not have agreed to accept the nomination. For all of these reasons there would have been a plausible basis for a legal challenge, had Ashcroft been inclined to drag the nation into yet another morass. And lets be honest, given the stakes, control of the entire Senate, most politicians of either party would have taken the low road, decorum be damned. I'm glad Ashcroft didn't, and applaud his statesmanship, even though I disagree with a great number of his political postions.

2. Recently the one-year anniversary of Jefford's change of heart was covered by the TV show NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, an outstanding show I highly recommend. The segment, called "Tipping Point", is available in text or streaming audio or video at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/congress/jan-june02/jeffords_5-22.html, or if they change the URL structure over there, go to http://www.pbs.org/newshour and search on "Tipping Point". If you can, I recommend the audio or video, its remarkable how Jeffords stammers and stutters as he tries to imply his change was one of principle and not political opportunism. Particularly precious is the expression on the face of the interviewer, Gwen Iffill.

In the 2000 senatorial campaign, dead Democratic challenger Mel Carnahan's name remained on the ballot because he died three days after Missouri's secretary of state approved the November ballot. After such approval, state law forbids any changes to the ballot, including the removal or addition of any candidate's name.

The issue of a candidate dying - after the ballots had been approved - has happened several times in Missouri, including when Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Jerry Litton died in a plane crash in 1976.

Article III of the Constitution is not violated because the deceased is never elected - if the deceased receives more votes, then by state law the seat is declared vacant. Missouri law gives the Governor the authority to make an appointment and he chose to appoint Carnahan's widow - Jean Carnahan - to the vacant senate seat.

While it is rare to have a candidate die between the issuance of the official ballot and election day, every state has similar provisions. So, even though it was a rare event, Missouri state law was written to handle just such an occurrence. There was no violation of federal or state law, and John Ashcroft, the defeated incumbent, had no recourse on these grounds to challenge the results.

Relevant Missouri Revised Statutes

Death of candidate after filing deadline and before election, procedure to be followed.
115.379. 1. Whenever the only candidate of a party for nomination or election to an office at a primary election, general election or special election to fill a vacancy dies after the filing deadline and before the election, his name shall be printed on the primary, general or special election ballot, as the case may be, unless another candidate has filed for the office pursuant to the provisions of section 115.361 or a new candidate has been selected pursuant to the provisions of sections 115.363 to 115.377. Whenever any other candidate for nomination or election to an office at a primary election, general election or special election to fill a vacancy dies after 5:00 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday prior to the election, his name shall be printed on the primary, general or special election ballot, as the case may be. The election and canvass shall proceed, and, if a sufficient number of votes are cast for the deceased candidate to entitle the candidate to nomination or election had the candidate not died, a vacancy shall exist on the general election ballot or in the office to be filled in the manner provided by law.

United States senator--vacancy, how filled.
105.040. Whenever a vacancy in the office of senator of the United States from this state exists, the governor, unless otherwise provided by law, shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy, who shall continue in office until a successor shall have been duly elected and qualified according to law.


Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.