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Senator Turner discussing a bill on the Senate floor.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner that would reduce the fiscal impact on taxpayers by merging future special elections with regularly scheduled general elections cleared the full Senate today.

“This bill will simplify and remove partisan politics from the process of filling congressional vacancies in the State,” said Senator Turner. “The state has already wasted too much taxpayer money on unnecessary elections. The last special election held in New Jersey cost $12 million; we couldn’t afford it then and there is no reason that we should ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a special election in the future.”

The bill, S-1737, would remove the option of calling special elections to fill a vacancy and create the requirement that any temporary appointee made by the Governor for a United State Senate (Senate) vacancy be of the same party as the member who left the seat vacant. Under the bill, congressional vacancies would all be filled at a general election, and the Governor would be required to issue the writs of election to be published online by the Secretary of State on the Division of Election’s website.

The bill would require the governor to make a temporary appointment to fill a vacancy in the office of the United States Senate within 30 days of the occurrence of the vacancy.  It would provide that the temporary appointee be a member of the same political party as the person vacating the office and require the individual to have been affiliated with that party continuously for a period of four consecutive years immediately prior to the appointment.

The bill lays out certain procedures for filling vacancies, but repeals the authority of the governor to call a special election to fill a vacancy in the Senate or the House.  Under the bill, congressional vacancies would be filled only on a general election day or, in the case of Senate vacancies, temporarily by gubernatorial appointment. In comparison to the Senate, the House of Representatives the Governor would not appoint any temporary member. In even years – the years when House members run for election or reelection – if a vacancy occurs, it would be filled at the general election of that year. For odd years, the bill would establish the same processes with the same deadlines as for filling Senate vacancies.

“We want to save taxpayer money.  We also want to increase voter participation to have a healthy democracy,” said Senator Turner. “Voter turnout for special elections is significantly low.  Merging the election with a general election that draws more voters gives voice to a larger portion of the electorate.  Whereas, holding elections on an off day is a form of voter suppression.”

The legislation was first introduced after Governor Christie chose to call for a special election on October 16, 2013 to fill the seat of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and appoint Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa to fill the vacancy until a successor was elected in the special election.

The bill cleared the Senate 25-11 and will next head to the Assembly for further consideration.


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