On October 16, some five million New Jersey residents can head to the polls and cast their votes for the senator of their choice. And twenty days later, they can go to the polls again to vote for governor. The reason: New Jersey’s October 16 special election. On June 3, 2012, New Jersey Senator Frank S. Lautenberg died while serving as a New Jersey senator. The next day, NJ Governor Chris Christie issued a Writ of Election setting the date for primaries for the vacant seat on August 13, 2013, and a general election for the seat on October 16, 2013. For political pundits in New Jersey, Christmas comes twice this year. But state Democrats—as well as some Republicans, county governments, minority and public interest groups, and coastal communities – aren’t seeing it that way. For these groups, the October 16 special election is a political ploy— and an expensive one. The special election is estimated to cost the state $12 millionmore than having the senate vacancy election on Election Day 2013, according to anopinion issued this summer by the state’s bipartisan Office of Legislative Services, obtained by the Huffington Post. Democrats criticized Christie for wasting taxpayer money to serve his own political ends (namely, avoiding Cory Booker’s supporters at the polls in November).
A June 7th motion for emergency relief challenged Christie’s decision to hold the election on October 16, 2013, as opposed to November 5, 2013. According to conflicting state election laws, Christie could have held the election onElection Day 2013, Election Day 2014, or another “special election” date (via language allowing the governor discretion in both statutes). Challengers argued Governor Christie exceeded the scope of his discretion – in part because of the election’s hefty price tag. (“[I]t’s a complete waste of taxpayer dollars,” one critic told the Star Ledger.)
In deciding the motion for relief in Grillo v. Christie on June 13, 2013, a three-judge appellate panel held that the cost of the special election was a political question outside the court’s review. “[O]bjections to the costs of this election are matters of policy that, in our view, are not questions for the court,” Judge Jane Grall wrote for the court. The Supreme Court of New Jersey denied cert. in the plaintiffs’ appeal.