Committees in both houses of the New Jersey state legislature advanced a bill Monday that would require all of this year's general elections to be held on Oct. 16, the date Gov. Chris Christie (R) has set for the state's special U.S. Senate election. The committees voted to reschedule the elections for governor, state legislature and local offices, which are currently set for Nov. 5.
The move is the latest salvo in an ongoing battle between Christie and New Jersey Democrats over the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Democrats have cited the $12 million cost of a special election and argued that holding two separate elections will confuse voters. Some have also accused Christie of trying to help state Republicans by scheduling the Senate election for October, since downticket Democrats would likely receive a boost if Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D), a candidate for Lautenberg's seat, appeared on the November ballot.
State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Metuchen), who is running an uphill campaign against Christie for governor, voiced her opposition to the decision to hold the election in October.
“It was a cynical move, it is self-serving, it is dishonest, it is irresponsible," Buono said. "We are wasting millions on an election when we cut women’s health and poverty has increased over the last three years.”
Buono acknowledged that Christie "has the latitude" on setting the election date, but she accused him of engaging in voter suppression.
Christie has indicated that he will veto the bill if it should reach his desk, saying it would end up on the "ash heap" of failed legislation.
The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee on Monday also advanced legislation to require future U.S. Senate appointees to be of the same party of the senator they replace. Christie named Jeff Chiesa, a Republican former state attorney general, as Lautenberg's replacement, and he will serve in the Senate until a permanent successor is elected.
Several states, including Wyoming and Hawaii, already have such a law in place, and New Jersey already requires temporary replacements for state legislators and local officials to be the same party of their predecessor. The bill would also strip future governors of the power to call special elections.
Democrats raised a number of issues during the debate over holding the elections in October, with Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami-Covello (D) reminding senators that such a move would save at least $12 million, the estimated cost to run a statewide election in New Jersey.
Sollami-Covello also highlighted election administration issues, saying the short turnaround between Oct. 16 and Nov. 5 would make it difficult to reprogram election machines and secure polling places. She also said that local school officials have expressed concern about having to shut down on two separate days, since many polling places are in schools.
“This seems to be a trainwreck in the making,” said State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrenceville).
The committee debate comes as opponents of the October election filed papers with the state Supreme Court Monday to appeal a lower court's ruling that Christie had the right to call the October election. As part of the filing, opponents cited a 1915 state law that they say would require the election to be held in November of this year.
Caitlin MacNeil contributed reporting.