Playing Fair in New York

Yes, it's only one primary election among dozens. And if some presidential contenders can't clear the bar to even be put on the state's ballot, they can seek to win convention delegates elsewhere.

Still, New York Republicans should be shamefaced about the way they run their party's primary. Their March 7 contest will allocate 93 delegates, who, together with eight at-large delegates chosen later by the state party, will represent nearly 10 percent of the 1,034 needed to for nomination at the national convention.

But every four years what ought to be a crucial primary vote in the most delegate-rich Northeast state becomes, instead, a shoo-in for whichever candidate the state GOP anoints. This time around that's Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Theoretically, other candidates could have competed for that nod by early and costly organizing efforts in the state. But limited resources and, perhaps, limited popularity with party officials work against that.

Most other states require of presidential hopefuls a degree of public recognition, or a nominal entrance fee, to get on their ballots. New York requires candidates to circulate petitions in each of the state's 31 congressional districts in order to get his name before the voters.

Both parties use this system, but the Republicans have raised it to a power-politics art form. The party machine puts at the disposal of its chosen candidate a corps of workers to collect signatures - and to challenge those gathered by opponents.

A well-heeled competitor, such as publisher Steve Forbes, can afford to go all out to get on the New York ballot. Mr. Forbes also has an organization left over from his last assault on the system four years ago.

Other hopefuls have little chance now of cracking the system. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, however, has decided to challenge the New York party and its iron grip on the primary in court.

It shouldn't really have to come to that. New York's Republicans, themselves, should decide this relic of old-time bossism is a disgrace to their party and to their state and jettison it.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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