The Star-Ledger

Christie's Lawyers, In Legal Brief, Defend October Special Election Date

Somerset Democrat trying to halt vote for Lautenberg's successor

The Star-Ledger — Wednesday, June 12, 2013

By Jenna Portnoy / The Star-Ledger

Lawyers for Gov. Chris Christie yesterday filed a legal brief defending the governor's decision to hold a special October election for the U.S. Senate, despite protests that it is a waste of taxpayer money and could disenfranchise voters.

On behalf of Christie, acting Attorney General John Hoffman argued that the law gives the governor discretion to set a special election and that anyone who wants to vote will be able to.

"The interest served by a full complement of elected federal officials representing the people of New Jersey in Washington, DC, at the earliest possible date ... far outweighs the individual interest of the appellants," Hoffman said in the 25-page document Hoffman was responding to a motion filed in state appellate court in Trenton on Friday by Peg Schaffer, chairwoman of the Somerset County Democrats, in hopes of halting plans for a special election.

The day after U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg's death on June 3, Christie announced plans for an Aug. 13 primary election, followed by an Oct. 16 special election to fill his seat. The Republican governor later appointed a close friend and colleague, Attorney General Jeff Chiesa, to serve five months as interim senator.

Schaffer contended the state would avoid a $12 million expense and potential disenfranchisement of voters resulting from a hastily organized election by holding the special election on the same day as the regular election in November.

Yesterday, a coalition of government watchdog groups and left-leaning organizations led by New Jersey Citizen Action and New Jersey Communities United filed briefs in support of Schaffer's motion.

"The governor's decision to hold the special election less than three weeks before the regularly scheduled general election could cause voter confusion and disenfranchise newly registered voters as their registrations might not make it into the voting rolls by Oct. 16," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

A motion filed by other groups, including the the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, National Black Disability Council, South Jersey Black Political Caucus, Liberian Community Association of Burlington, Liberian Community Association of Newark, Minority Caucus of Monmouth County, Somerset County Democratic Hispanic Caucus, and Indo-American Cultural Association, cited similar concerns. The groups said Senate candidates would not have enough time to collect the 1,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot in time for Monday's deadline, depriving voters of a "diverse field of candidates."

In its response, the state pointed to the six candidates — four Democrats and two Republicans — who collected more than double the minimum number of signatures. Steve Lonegan, a Republican, led the pack with 7,201 signatures followed by Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, a Democrat, with 7,162 signatures.

But Schaffer said voters would have a hard time getting to the polls on Oct. 16, a Wednesday, and then showing up again three weeks later for the regular November election. The state countered that voters could cast mail-in ballots.

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