The Democratic-controlled New Jersey state Assembly on Monday passed legislation to move all state elections this year to Oct. 16, the day Gov. Chris Christie (R) picked for a special U.S. Senate election.
The move is another step toward a showdown with the governor. Democrats have objected to Christie's decision to hold the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) just 20 days before the general election on Nov. 5. The special election and its Aug. 13 primary will each cost the state at least $12 million.
After the state Supreme Court decided not to take up a case seeking to move the special election to November, Democrats hung their hopes on the bill to combine the general and special elections in October.
“It avoids the confusion," Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) said during debate on Monday. "It is the right thing to do.”
Gusciora, who is sponsoring the bill with Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood) and state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrenceville), stressed the financial aspect of the legislation, noting it would save at least $12 million.
His bill would move the Nov. 5 election to Oct. 16, allowing the votes for U.S. Senate, governor, the state legislature, local offices and school board seats to be held all in one day.
Gusciora said that in addition to the financial savings, voters would avoid the confusion that could come from having two elections so close together.
Democrats have argued against the October special election for weeks, noting it could lead to voter suppression. They've also noted that holding the elections separately prevents the possibility of Democratic Senate candidate Cory Booker, the popular Newark mayor, appearing on the ballot at the same time as Christie.
The governor has denied any political motivation and has said the measure to combine the two elections will end up on the "ash heap" of failed legislation.
Last week on HuffPost Live, Christie pointed to the state's current Constitution, which was passed in 1947, and said its authors wanted to keep federal and state elections separate. New Jersey occasionally holds special elections for state legislative seats at the same time as federal elections, and local offices are on the ballot each year.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) argued against Gusciora's bill, saying voters could go to their county clerk's office to vote early in both elections starting in September, an option he said would eliminate any voter confusion. Bramnick is one of Christie's biggest legislative boosters and praised the governor as a national bipartisan role model later in the session. He said Christie's choice of election date was not partisan.
"He could have been very partisan and kept the Republican U.S. senator in that position to Nov. 2014," Bramnick said.
The Assembly also passed legislation from Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees Township) which would allow early voting for the November election to occur at polling places during the October election.
“This will give us the opportunity to make sure no one is disenfranchised," Greenwald said.
Bramnick also argued against Greenwald's bill, saying the early voting at county clerks' offices would resolve the problem.