Seemingly conflicting laws create uncertainty over when Lautenberg’s replacement will have to face the voters
If Governor Chris Christie appoints someone to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy caused by Senator Frank Lautenberg’s death, there will either be a special election this year for the remainder of the term, or next November, depending on who’s interpretation of seemingly conflicting paragraphs in Title 19.
Christie has the power to appoint a replacement, but is not required to do so. He very likely will.
The Office of Legislative Services has issued an opinion stating that the Governor can appoint a replacement who will serve until November of 2014. The winner of the November 2014 election would serve the remaining two months of the term and a full term to start in January of 2015.
Christie could also call a special general election to fill the remainder of the term, which would be proceeded by a special primary election.
19:27-6. Congressional vacancies.
19:27-6. In the case of a vacancy in the representation of this State in the United States Senate or House of Representatives, the writ may designate the next general election day for the election, but if a special day is designated, it shall specify the cause and purpose of such election, the name of the officer in whose office the vacancy has occurred, the day on which a special primary election shall be held, which shall be not less than 70 days nor more than 76 days following the date of such proclamation, and the day on which the special election shall be held, which shall be not less than 64 nor more than 70 days following the day of the special primary election. The writ shall also specify the day or days when the district boards shall meet for the purpose of making, revising or correcting the registers of voters to be used at such special election.
If the vacancy happens in the representation of this State in the United States Senate the election shall take place at the general election next succeeding the happening thereof, unless the vacancy shall happen within 70 days next preceding the primary election prior to the general election, in which case it shall be filled by election at the second succeeding election, unless the Governor shall deem it advisable to call a special election therefor, which he is authorized hereby to do.
If the vacancy happens in the representation of this State in the House of Representatives in any year, not later than the 70th day prior to the day for holding the next primary election for the general election, the Governor shall issue a writ of election to fill such vacancy, designating in said writ the next general election day as the day on which the election shall be held to fill such vacancy. The nomination of candidates to fill such vacancy shall be made in the same manner as the nomination of other candidates at the said primary election for the general election.
Given that the primary is tomorrow, the 70 day rule which would have the new Senator face the voters in November of 2014 seems to apply.
But NJ Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski is arguing that another part of Title 19 rules that the new Senator must face the voters this November, or sooner, if Christie chooses to fill the vacancy.
19:3-26. Vacancies in United States senate; election to fill; temporary appointment by governor.
19:3-26. If a vacancy shall happen in the representation of this State in the United States senate, it shall be filled at the general election next succeeding the happening thereof, unless such vacancy shall happen within 70 days next preceding such election, in which case it shall be filled by election at the second succeeding general election, unless the governor of this State shall deem it advisable to call a special election therefor, which he is authorized hereby to do.
The governor of this State may make a temporary appointment of a senator of the United States from this State whenever a vacancy shall occur by reason of any cause other than the expiration of the term; and such appointee shall serve as such senator until a special election or general election shall have been held pursuant to law and the Board of State Canvassers can deliver to his successor a certificate of election.
Democrats want the seat to on the ballot this year and next, so that their nominee, presumably Newark Mayor Cory Booker, can give Democrats something to get excited about this year given Barbara Buono’s uninspiring performance in the gubernatorial race thus far. With Booker and Christie both running for different office this year, there is less of a likelihood of Christie having down ballot coattails that could tip control of the State Legislature. Democrats also don’t want Christie’s Republican appointee to have a year in the Senate to establish incumbency and raise money, much easier for an incumbent than a challenger to do, for a 2014 race.
Christie has often been critical of the Office of Legislative Services regarding their budget numbers. But he is likely to agree with them and praise their non-partisanship with their opinion today. Christie has much more flexibility if his appointee is to serve until November of 2014, and his reelection campaign won’t have to share headlines or campaign cash with a Senate race.
Should Christie appoint a member of the State Legislature to the U.S. Senate…Seantors Joe Kyrillos, Tom Kean, JR and Kevin O’Toole and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick are rumored to be in consideration…whoever that legislator ends up being, risks being out of office should they have to face Booker this coming November. They can’t run for their State offices and U.S. Senate in the same election. If the appointee serves until November of 2014, and runs as an incumbent, that Senator’s chances of fighting off Booker’s challenge is much greater.
Another consideration is the nominations. Booker is considered the heavy favorite to be the Democratic nominee, but Congressman Frank Pallone has openly been coveting the Senate job. The section of Title 19 that the Democrats favor does not address a primary or method of choosing a nominee. Christie’s choice is likely to be the Republican nominee, but someone is likely to want to compete for the nomination.
More than likely, the issue will be decided in court within the next week or two.