Sweeney: Special election for Lautenberg’s seat should be this November

TRENTON – The state’s top Senate lawmaker says legislation governing filling vacancies makes it “crystal clear” a special election should be held in November to fill the U.S. Senate seat left open by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), agrees there is “some confusion” in state statutes about whether the governor can call for a special election in November to fill the seat or if it can be held off until next year.

However, the intent of the statute is clear, Sweeney says. Gov. Chris Christie can fill the vacancy with a person of his choosing but the statute dictates a special election should be held in November, according to the Senate president.

“I know there’s been some confusion in the legislation, but we think the intent is crystal clear that there needs to be a special election in November and we would be expecting that,” Sweeney said Monday following a brief voting session.

Despite Sweeney’s interpretation, Republican sources say the state’s conflicting laws on the issue give Christie greater authority to choose a special election date after filling the position.

An Office of Legislative Services opinion issued earlier today and obtained by PolitickerNJ says Christie can appoint a successor now and hold a special election in November 2014 to fill the remaining two months of Lautenberg’s term.

“The governor may make a temporary appointment and that person would serve until someone is elected at the next succeeding general election, held in November of 2014,” it reads. “The winner thereof would serve the remaining two months of Senator Lautenberg’s term and then begin a full term in January of 2015.”

But Sweeney says he isn’t convinced.

“I know there’s some people saying there’s some confusion because in one section of the law it says one thing and another section of the law it says something different, but the legislative intent was very clear,” he said. “We would hope the governor would do the right thing and have a special election this November.”

Perhaps signaling her thoughts that an election should be held sooner rather than later, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, (D-34), indicated through a spokesperson a special election should be held in November 2013.

“Right now I am joining the state in mourning the loss of Sen. Lautenberg, but will turn to such questions in the coming days out of necessity,” Oliver said in a statement.

“Having said that, I generally always believe the voters should be the ones deciding who holds public offices,” she added. “That’s what democracy is all about.”