New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is fighting a Democratic lawsuit challenging his decision to call an October special election to fill an open U.S. Senate seat.
Acting state Attorney General John Hoffman filed papers in state court Tuesday defending Christie's decision, saying that the governor has the power to schedule the election at his discretion and dismissing the Democratic suit as politics. Christie called the Oct. 16 election and Aug. 13 primary last week to fill the seat left vacant by the June 3 death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D).
On Friday, Somerset County Democratic Party Chairwoman Peg Schaffer's law firm filed a suit on behalf of three Democratic candidates saying that calling the election 20 days before the regular November election could cause voter suppression and confusion. In addition, the suit challenges that six days to gather the 1,000 signatures required to appear on the August primary ballot did not leave candidates with enough time. Schaffer wants the special election moved to November.
The timing of Lautenberg's death led to confusion over the applicable state law to fill his seat; Democrats argued in support of a law specifying a November 2013 special election, while another reading called for a November 2014 election. Both sections of the law allow for Christie to call for a special election at another date, a point Hoffman stresses in his court filing. Christie said that he wanted to call the October election to quickly provide New Jersey residents with a "choice and a voice" in the Senate. The two special elections will cost $24 million.
"Appellants contend that the special election to fill the senatorial vacancy must be held the day of the regularly scheduled general election, this year, November 5, 2013," Hoffman wrote. "This conclusion, however, is clearly at odds with the wording of the above-noted statutes, which allow the governor, and only the governor, to set the date for the special election."
Hoffman's filing also challenges the voter suppression argument by saying that voters would have the ability to vote either in person or by mail in both elections, and that county clerks would have ample time to prepare vote-by-mail packets and instructions. The acting attorney general also argued that Jersey City voters this year had a May 14 election for mayor and city council, followed by the June 4 primary for governor and state legislature and a June 11 runoff for city council seats as proof that elections could be held closely together.
In response to Schaffer's argument that Giuseppe Grillo, one of the plantiffs, did not have time to consider a Senate race, Hoffman argued that Grillo did not take steps to indicate an interest in running. He also said that the six candidates who filed for the Senate all gathered 1,000-plus signatures in the six-day period to qualify for the August ballot.
Four Democrats -- Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Rep. Rush Holt, state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Rep. Frank Pallone -- and two Republicans -- former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and physician Alieta Eck -- are running in the August primary. Christie appointed state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa (R) to fill the seat until October.
The October decision will prevent the possibility of the popular Booker appearing on the same ballot as Christie when he faces Democratic gubernatorial nominee Barbara Buono in his bid for reelection. Christie leads Buono by 30 points in recent polls. Christie has said politics did not play a role in the decision.