Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) announced on Tuesday afternoon that New Jersey’s special election to fill the seat vacated with the passing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) will take place on October 16, three full weeks before the state’s general election and his own re-election.
The decision to hold the election at the earliest possible date instead of delaying it to take place on the same day as the statewide general election in November will cost the taxpayers anestimated $12 million in additional spending. That is a hefty price tag for a state that has endured sharp cuts to programs like tax credits for low-income families and women’s clinics.
Last year, Christie used his line-item veto authority to slash some $86 million from the budget that was passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature. Among the cuts were $6 million slashed from medical day care services, $2 million from Work First NJ child care, and $2.2 million from nursing care for the elderly. All three of these cuts could be undone for the cost of this special election.
During his remarks on Tuesday, Christie initially claimed that he was bound by state law from holding the special election on the same day as the general election, on November 4. This is a highly questionable reading of New Jersey law, however. Although state law provides that the date of a special election primary “shall be not less than 70 days nor more than 76 days following the date” of the governor’s proclamation calling the election, and the election itself shall be held within a certain number of days of the primary, it appears silent on when the governor needs to issue his proclamation setting the election date. That means Christie could have waited 18 days to issue the proclamation and hold the special election on the same day as his own re-election, thus saving the state millions of dollars. Historically, special elections also see far diminished voter turnout as compared to regularly-scheduled general elections.
Christie told reporters that the financial factors did not come into play when he was making his decision. “I don’t know what the cost is, and frankly, I don’t care,” he said.
The Weekly Standard dug up a bill passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Christie last year that sought to save local communities money by allowing school districts to move their school board elections to November, consolidating them with the general elections.