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The place to stop Roy Moore? The ballot box

Former Alabama Chief Justice and US Senate candidate Roy Moore.
Former Alabama Chief Justice and US Senate candidate Roy Moore.Associated Press/Brynn Anderson

Massachusetts voters repeatedly sent a man some blamed for causing a woman’s death to the Senate — and nobody told us we couldn’t.

Voters in Alabama are entitled to the same deference.

It goes almost without saying that former judge, alleged child abuser, and Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore would be a terrible lawmaker. He deserves to lose his election in December. But the reported GOP schemes to deny him the seat if he wins would be an affront to democracy, and the party should clarify that it intends to respect the will of voters.

The allegations that Moore assaulted young girls while a local prosecutor in the 1970s and 1980s are credible, disgusting, and by now are probably known to every voter in Alabama. The Washington Post published a report last week with four women’s accounts, and on Monday another accuser came forward. The New Yorker reported that Moore’s predations were so well known locally that he was banned from a local mall because of his pursuit of teenaged girls. Local media have corroborated some of the details, and local newspapers have blasted Moore as “unfit” for office.

So far, the congressional GOP’s response to the revelations has been strong: GOP senators withdrew financial support for Moore, most senators rescinded their endorsement, and the leadership in both the House and Senate called on him to drop out of the race. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said he is considering backing a write-in campaign to deny Moore the seat. At least one Republican, retiring Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, said he would support Moore’s Democratic opponent, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones.


Those are appropriate, if hardball, political tactics.


But if Moore wins anyway — a real possibility in deep-red Alabama — the GOP is reportedly considering a nuclear option: blocking Moore from taking the seat.

“If he refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate,” said Colorado Republican Cory Gardner.

That’s a far more radical statement than it might seem. The Constitution gives the Senate the ability to remove members by a two-thirds vote. But that power has always been balanced against respect for voters, who are allowed to pick controversial, incompetent, even dangerous senators. Since the popular election of senators began in the early 20th century, no senator has been removed — including such luminaries as former Louisiana senator David Vitter, a customer of a D.C. brothel, and former West Virginia senator and ex-Klansman Robert Byrd. The removal power has only been contemplated in cases of misconduct that occurred during a senator’s term.

The Senate can break precedent, of course, and removal might seem like an expedient way to get rid of an abomination like Moore.

But Alabama voters now know Moore’s past, and can pick an alleged child abuser to represent them if they want. Simply booting an elected senator without any finding of wrongdoing in office during his term would be ominous. All senators — and it would require at least some Democratic support to expel Moore if he’s elected — ought to think twice before overriding the judgment of voters. Roy Moore needs to be stopped, but he needs to be stopped at the ballot box.