The critics were united. Confusion and inconvenience, they said, would lead to an embarrassingly low voter turnout at the special U.S. Senate election Gov. Chris Christie had called for a Wednesday in mid-October, a mere 20 days before the regularly scheduled November voting. And they were right. Only 24 percent of the state’s registered voters took part. It was higher than the participation rate when your average New Jersey fire district chooses its commissioners, but it was the lowest figure ever for a general election. Some performance. Some payoff for the $12 million extra it cost the state to vote on two days instead of one. Why did the governor set it up that way? If you’re not a rabid Christie partisan, the answer should be easy. As a candidate for a second term on the Nov. 5 ballot, he preferred not to share it with popular Democratic Senate candidate Cory Booker and diminish his own chances for the landslide victory he’d like to be able to flaunt when the time comes for him to pursue the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) wants to ensure that “no future governors can use taxpayer money on a campaign strategy to promote their national ambitions.” She’s introduced a bill, S2857, to remove a chief executive’s power to call a special election to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate. The bill has been approved in committee for a floor vote, as yet unscheduled.
Under S2857, a Senate vacancy would have to be temporarily filled by the governor within 30 days with an appointee who was a member of the same political party as the person vacating the office, and who had been such a member continuously for at least four consecutive years. The four-year requirement would prevent disputes about party affiliation of the kind that have led to the ongoing deadlock between Christie and Senate Democrats over how to maintain political balance on the state Supreme Court.
The temporary senator would serve until a replacement was chosen at regularly scheduled June primary and November general election. Depending on when the vacancy occurred, the position would be filled by the voters at the next general election or the second succeeding general election. In either case, the person elected would serve the remainder of the former senator’s term.