Bill to allow elimination of election superintendents on hold

TRENTON – A bill to permit elimination of superintendents of elections or deputy superintendents was held in committee Monday.

Its sponsor, state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) could not attend, and committee member state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton) said he has similar legislation that he would like to confer with Norcross about, and several witnesses said the bill – offered as an attempt to save money – would have the consequence of increasing partisan politics.

The bill, S2455, which was before the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee, would permit abolition of offices of superintendent or deputy superintendent of elections, or both, and transfer those powers  to county commissioners of registration or county boards of elections.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) pointed out that superintendents and deputy superintendents – who must be from separate parties  are appointed by the governor and undergo background checks before being approved in the Senate, while the boards of election are tapped by party leaders and do not undergo the same “advise and consent’’ of other appointees.

State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Newark) said, “This bill to me is creating substantial harm in terms of political power bases,” and said he has talked to Norcross about his concerns.

Norcross, who was unable to attend the hearing, said that he had spoken with Rice and was agreeable to holding the bill until issues could be addressed.  The bill possibly will be ready the next time the committee meets.

Dale Florio, representing the N.J. Association of Election Officials, testified that “The debate comes down to what you think you might save vs. can you run a better election process. The only system guaranteed nonpartisan is where you have a superintendent of elections.’’

Committee Chairman Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic City), in holding the bill, referenced his own experiences in Atlantic City down through the years. “Strange things happened’’ during elections, he said to some laughter, including one election with a “last-minute epidemic’’ of emergency votes and messengers.

Bucco had said that in regards to his own previous proposal, he estimated a savings of $300,000 to $400,000 a year by eliminating superintendents or deputies.

Although Norcross’ bill would mandate that if a county board of freeholders abolishes a superintendent of elections post that it must do so for 10 years minimum, Bucco said there could be a provision to allow for petitioning to reinstate the post earlier. He said he would like to meet with Norcross to discuss possible options.

Eleven of New Jersey’s 21 counties employ a superintendent of elections.

Bill to allow elimination of election superintendents on hold