TRENTON – The Senate State Government Committee released two bills pertaining to election dates and political party affiliation that were no doubt inspired by Gov. Chris Christie’s strategic decision to hold a special election to fill the vacated U.S. Senate seat, rather than including that election on the November general election ballot.
One bill S2857, sponsored by Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15) of Ewing, would require the governor to make a temporary appointment to the U.S. Senate when a vacancy occurs that is of the same political party as the individual who held the seat.
Special election options would be eliminated. The bill calls for removing the governor’s option of calling a special primary election and a special general election on days other than the days regularly scheduled for such elections in order to fill a vacancy in the office for the remainder of the term.
Under current law, the governor may call a special election to fill the vacancy, and the governor may also make a temporary appointment to fill the vacancy until a general election or special election is held.
Only Sen. Sam Thompson (R-11) of Old Bridge voted no, while Democrats Jim Whelan (D-2) of Atlantic City, Turner and Barbara Buono (D-18) Metuchen, voted to release the bill.
Turner said holding too many elections increases the likelihood of lower voter turnout. Thus, she believes holding one election will save money and not require the voters to keep coming out multiple times.
“It’s just naked ambition under the guise of giving people a choice,” Turner said about Christie’s move to hold a special election.
The special election is estimated to cost approximately $12 million.
Paula Sollami Covello, a clerk of Mercer County, is something that makes sense for administrative and cost purposes, since it would avoid duplication and confusion.
“To have two duplicate processes makes it difficult,” she said. “It is more efficient (to have just one election).”
Buono – the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, called Christie’s move to hold a special election “irresponsible,” “self-serving” and “cynical.”
But Thompson said there will be enough media attention on the elections to inform voters.
“If they open their eyes and ears, they will know,” he said. “If people are concerned about their government and democracy, they will vote.”
With regard to the compressed schedule and having two separate elections so close together, he pointed out something similar happened in Jersey City after a runoff election had to take place.
“They don’t seem to have any problems. They seem to be able to handle this.”
The second bill, S2858, would change the date of the 2013 general election from Nov. 5 to Oct. 16, which is when the U.S. Senate special election is scheduled to take place. The bill makes the point that changing the election date is allowed by the state Constitution.
Sollami Covello said the move would save money, adding that there aren’t enough voting machines.
“We’re going to have to print ballots. We’re going to have to mail ballots. We’re going to have to move machines at a tremendous cost.
“Making it all one day makes sense.”
The debate played out even as both sides of the issue submitted briefs to the state Supreme Court over when the election to replace U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg will be held. Gov. Chris Christie tapped a Republican, Attorney General Jeff Chiesa, to temporarily hold the seat left vacant when Lautenberg, a Democrat, died.