By Yaël Ossowski | Watchdog.org
The idea of a Wednesday election in mid-October is probably the furthest thing from ideal for the average New Jersey voter.
Especially after years of popular campaigning and political outreach to remind citizens of all stripes to exercise their voting power through the ballot box on the Tuesday after the first Monday of every November. It’s a tradition that will not be upheld in the Garden State’s special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
Instead, New Jerseyeans from across the state will file into booths Oct. 16 to vote for either Republican Steve Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota, or Democrat Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark.
Such a late election has been called ”highly irregular” if not out right “deceitful” by state Sen. Shirley Turner, a Democrat representing Trenton‘s inner city.
“It’s a form of voter suppression because we’re not going to see the type of turnout that we ordinarily see in the general election,” she told Watchdog.org. “It’s bad for voters because of confusion, voter fatigue, and because it’s too many elections in such a short period.
“In our democracy, we want to maximize turnout and get more people to participate, not less,” she said.
Turner is reacting to the decision by Gov. Chris Christie, a strong-willed Republican with no time for games, to hold the election almost three weeks before the regular general election, when he faces a gubernatorial challenge from Democrat Barbara Buono.
And non è buono, according to the Democrat state senator from Middlesex County, who blasted the “worrying” Christie in a fund raising email earlier this year and invoked the likely $24 million cost of holding both a special primary and election to fill one half of New Jersey’s seats in the Upper Chamber of the U.S. Senate.
That $24 million is the estimate for both the primary and general election put together by the Office of Legislative Services. The cost will be fully placed upon individual counties for the time being and reimbursed at the end of the year.
Of big concern for voters and taxpayers, therefore, is the chance turnout will be the lowest in decades. The special election primary attracted just 9 percent of registered voters — not the lowest of all time but almost, according to WNYC. This reveals a general apathy from the voting public despite the importance of deciding the partisan balance of the U.S. Senate — something that could affect the ongoing negotiations over the nation’s budget impasse.
A graph put together by WNYC paints a grim picture of New Jersey democracy, showing diminishing numbers of voters participating in elections in the state since the 1950s.
So with a $24 million tag and expected low voter turnout, what if, in the words of American poet Carl Sandburg, they gave an election and no one came?
At least for Christie, who hopes to easily cruise to re-election in November, it doesn’t seem to be a concern.
“We all know the governor changed the date so he didn’t have a Democrat on the top of the ballot,” surmised Turner. ”How can you justify adding the cost of two elections for $24 million?
“The governor has always touted the fact that he’s a fiscal conservative. These elections are costing somewhere around $25 per vote — and for what?”
That’s what New Jersey’s politicos will have to deal with in the weeks going forward.