On October 16th – a Wednesday, no less – New Jersey voters are being asked to go to the polls to select a new U.S Senator to replace Jeffrey Chiesa, Gov. Chris Christie’s stand-in for the long-time Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died earlier this year. Bizarrely, this oh-so-special election takes place just 20 days before these same voters will be asked to return to the polls for the regularly scheduled election for governor and state legislature. The cost to New Jersey taxpayers? Some $12 million. The adverse impact on voter turnout for having two separate elections in 20 days? Significant. The partisan calculation behind the election date? Blatant. It’s hard to know when we’ll hit bottom in shameless manipulation of our electoral laws by leaders of both major parties, but let’s hope it doesn’t get much lower than Gov. Christie’s “datemander.” When announcing his election schedule last spring, Christie justified the October 16th date with his professed belief that New Jersey voters needed as many days as possible with an elected Senator – then proceeded to appoint a Republican who for four months opposed most of the positions held by the man originally elected by those voters.
We all know the real reason for this “Christiecookery.” Christie wanted to keep the special election separate from his own re-election. As expected, Democrats have nominated Newark mayor Cory Booker, who is heavily favored to become the second African American elected to the U.S. Senate in the 21st century. With odd-year elections typically having lower turnout than even-year elections, Christie didn’t want a new surge of voters to upset his re-election applecart – or adversely affect Republicans in state legislative elections.
For much of the media, such partisan manipulation was worth just a wink and a nod – even quiet admiration for the sheer gall of asking NewJersey to pay to boost Republican electoral fortunes. It’s hard to imagine the media applauding if a sports team sneakily adjusted the height of the opponents’ basket or scheduled a game earlier to avoid facing another team’s best player who was returning from injury, for instance, – and then charged fans extra for the cost of rescheduling.