New Jersey Newsroom

'Smoking Gun' Law Found, Claims Gov. Christie's October Special Election Is Illegal

New Jersey Newsroom — Monday, June 17, 2013


Today, New Jersey Citizen Action and New Jersey Communities United filed a brief showcasing a state law on filling U.S. Senate vacancies that says such elections should be spaced out in a way that saves taxpayer money. The law's purpose was to "avoid the expenses of special elections for United States Senators and Congressmen."

"We already knew Governor Christie's call for a special election in October was politically self-serving, but now we know it is clearly illegal," said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, Executive Director of New Jersey Citizen Action. "As a former U.S. Attorney, Christie should be guided by the law and as Governor he should be guided by what's best for the state. This 'smoking gun' legislation makes it clear that the legislative intent was to save taxpayer dollars - the exact opposite of Governor Christie's undemocratic decision, which is unnecessarily costing taxpayers an estimated $12 million."

In 1915, the New Jersey State Legislature enacted the law governing the timing of replacing a U.S. Senate or Congressional vacancy "to avoid the expenses of special elections." Unless the vacancy occurred shortly before the next general election, it should be filled at the closest general election. Clearly, this "smoking gun" of a law proves Governor Christie was not only wrong in scheduling an October special election to fill the late U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg's seat - a mere month before an already scheduled general election - but also acting illegally.

"You have to look to legislative intent," said Steven Weissman, one of the lawyers filing the brief. "The 1915 bill, which was drafted for the specific purpose of avoiding the expenses of a special election, is a clear expression of Legislature's intent to fill a Senate seat vacancy at the next general election, if feasible," Weissman added. "If it is feasible to hold an election on October 16, it is surely feasible to hold the election on November 5, Election Day."

"It's both ironic and hypocritical that Governor Christie would veto early voting a few weeks ago citing a price tag and then call for a special election which costs the taxpayers $12 million and suppresses the vote," said Trina Scordo, Executive Director of NJ Communities United. "These millions could be far better used to restore critical funding to women's health care, NJ After 3, or improved education funding — all programs Christie cut funding for due to cost concerns."

Today's revelation comes on the heels of NJ Citizen Action and NJ Communities United filing as amici curiae in support of the June 7th lawsuit that sought to invalidate Governor Christie's Writ of Election setting a special election for October 16th — citing concerns of voter disenfranchisement and taxpayer dollars wasted. The two groups are asking that the Senatorial election be held as part of the general election on November 5th, 2013.

The recent Appellate Division's decision wrongly handed Governor Christie unbridled discretion over the timing of elections for filling such vacancies. This is true even when, as is the case here, filling such a vacancy at the next general election is both mandated and entirely feasible.

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New Jersey Citizen Action is the State's largest, independent citizen watchdog coalition representing 100 affiliated and allied organizations and 60,000 family members. New Jersey Citizen Action works to improve the lives of all residents through organizing campaigns that promote economic and social justice.

You can reach Ann Vardeman at New Jersey Citizen Action, 75 Raritan Ave, Suite 200, Highland Park, NJ 08904

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