New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has called for a special election in October to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg, averting a potential legal issue over his state’s election laws.
Lautenberg, 89, died on Monday after a bout with viral pneumonia. He served five terms in the Senate and was its last World War II veteran. Lautenberg said in February that he wasn’t running for re-election in November 2014.
The special election will be preceded by a special primary, with the unusual Senate election on October 16. The winner will serve out the balance of Lautenberg’s term.
Christie will appoint a senator next week to serve until October 16. It’s expected that the appointee will be a Republican, which will give the GOP one more Senate seat, at least for a few months.
Democrats were critical of Christie’s decision, because of the extra $12 million it will cost to run the special primary and election.
The criticism didn’t bother Christie, who spoke at a news conference.
“This is about guaranteeing the people of New Jersey a choice and a voice in Washington,” Christie said.
Christie also said that legal confusion over the state’s election laws did not play a role in his decision, saying that he wanted the elected senator for his state as soon as possible.
But the decision will end the debate over conflicting state laws that say a special election could be held in November 2013 or in November 2014.
That’s because of an apparent error in a 2011 New Jersey election law that is definitely conflicting—and confusing.
In New Jersey Title 19, Elections, part of the code called “Senate vacancies” says that if the Senate vacancy happens within 70 days of a general election, the election to name a new senator is held the following year.
But in a separate paragraph, called “Congressional vacancies,” if the Senate vacancy happens within 70 days of a primary election, the election is held the following year, too.
Both statutes gave Christie the power to call a special election to name the new senator at a date of his choosing.
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