News Analysis: New Jersey election not so special
Local officials balk at cost and timing of special election
In November 2012 many New Jersey elections officials were left scrambling to pull off the presidential election after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Garden State just days before voters were set to hit the polls.
Now, with local elections officials preparing for the state’s off-year gubernatorial election, once again a storm has hit their shores although this time, the storm is in the form of a special election to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) who passed away at the age of 89 earlier this month.
Incumbent Gov. Chris Cristie (R), who will be on the November ballot, scheduled the special election for October 16 with a primary set for August 13.
Almost as soon as the election was set, it was embroiled in controversy. In addition to carrying a $24 million price tag, October 16 is a Wednesday.
Sen. Shirley Turner (D-15th District) has introduced two pieces of legislation. One would move the special election to coincide with the November general election and another that would eliminate special elections all together.
In addition to the pending legislation, a lawsuit was filed — by an ally of Christie’s November opponent — challenging the governor’s authority to schedule the election when he did.
The state appeals court rejected the challenge and now the case is pending before the state Supreme Court. In arguments before the Supreme Court, lawyers for the governor argued that the governor has vowed to hire more state workers and rent extra voting machines to ensure that the elections will run smoothly.
While the lawyers and legislators are haggling over the election reaction among local elections was mixed with many concerned about voter fatigue/turnout.
Warren County Clerk Patricia Kolb is concerned that voter turnout for the special election could be lower than the 10 percent turnout for the regularly scheduled primary on June 3.
"I think it's not in the best interest of the voters for sure," Kolb told The Express-Times. "You're not going to get the turnout."
Antoinette Battaglia, West Milford municipal clerk pointed out an added wrinkle that many may not have thought about: the ability to get poll workers.
Poll workers make $200 per day and since wages earned above $600 require filing income tax documents, Battaglia told The Record she is concerned that some long-time, experienced poll workers will be forced to sit out an election or two in order to not have to file the paperwork.
"Before polls closed [on June 3] it was already a problem ... the poll workers were already concerned," Battaglia told the paper. "… I will have an urgent need for poll workers. If anybody has anybody who could possibly [be interested in being a poll worker] just drag them in."
Although the state has assured local election officials that it will pick up the tab for the election, many remain doubtful.
Union County freeholders were the first to decline to allocate the funds necessary — approximately $850,000 — to hold the special election.
"For us, this is a financial hardship," Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh told The Star-Ledger.
Officials in Bergen County followed suit. This week, the freeholders voted unanimously to have their attorney file a “declaratory judgment action” contesting the cost of both the special primary and the special general.
Monmouth County freeholders said they don’t mind holding the special election as long as there are assurances that the state will pick up the tab as promised.
Not all local elections officials are concerned about the special election. Hunterdon County Clerk Mary Melfi told the Express-Times that as long as the promised funding comes through, she sees no problem with having the special election, especially after 2012.
"Especially after Hurricane Sandy, there's not ever going to be another election that's going to scare me again," Melfi told the paper.