TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Government lawyers argued Tuesday that the New Jersey Supreme Court should reject a request to move a special U.S. Senate election that Gov. Chris Christie scheduled three weeks before the state’s regular Nov. 5 election.
Christie and all 120 legislative seats are up for election in November. However, the governor set the special election for Oct. 16 — the first legally allowable date — to fill the remaining year of a Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Democrats sued, and an appeals court quickly and unanimously sided with Christie, ruling the governor within his authority to set the special election schedule.
The Supreme Court received briefs this week from challengers seeking emergency consideration to invalidate the dates. They say it’s unnecessary to hold a special election so close to regularly scheduled balloting, which will cost taxpayers an extra $12 million. There is no word on when the court might rule.
Party primaries are scheduled for Aug. 13. Four Democrats and two Republicans have qualified.
Christie said Tuesday he’s confident his legal argument will prevail. But, he is facing a Supreme Court not of his making. The seven-member court has two temporary justices because the Democrat-led Senate has consistently blocked Christie’s judicial nominees.
Elections expert DeForest Soaries Jr., a former secretary of state to Republican Gov. Christie Whitman and chairman of a federal voting assistance commission, wrote to Christie this week urging him to reconsider.
Soaries said Christie is so popular he shouldn’t worry about having a U.S. Senate race topping his own re-election bid, the self-serving reason critics claim was behind the decision. They say Christie — hoping for a landslide win in November — doesn’t want to risk driving up Democratic turnout by sharing the ballot with a U.S. Senate contest, especially if Newark Mayor Cory Booker wins the primary.
“The only concern should be how to make it as easy as possible for voters,” said Soaries. “No one could argue that holding four elections (two primaries and two general elections) within six months is easiest for voters.”
Soaries, like the challengers, argue that holding elections in mid-October and early November will lead to voter confusion and lower turnout.
Lawyers for the governor say those outcomes are unsubstantiated conjecture, and should be dismissed. They say voters can cast ballots by mail. They also dismiss arguments that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to recalibrate, certify and deliver voting machines for back-to-back elections.
If given an unfavorable ruling by the court, Christie may opt to keep a placeholder, former Attorney General Jeff Chiesa, in the Senate seat for the remainder of the term. That would make the election a year from November.
“My understanding is that the folks who are arguing about this are saying I had no right to call the special election,” Christie said when asked about the lawsuit after an event in Moonachie. “Well, you can’t have it both ways. Holding a Senate election on Nov. 5 would in fact be a special Senate election.
“So you can’t say I don’t have the right to do it on Oct. 16, but I do have the right to do it on Nov. 5,” he said. “If they say I don’t have the right to hold a special election, then their problem is going to be that that means November of 2014. They might have just outsmarted themselves.”
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