Governor Chris Christie announced that New Jersey will hold special elections in October to fill the seat left vacant after the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg. The cost of this decision has already become controversial, including the $12 million spent on a partisan primary, nobody will vote in.
To fill the vacancy, two solutions exist: nominate someone to fill in until the normally scheduled 2014 elections or organize a special election. Governor Christie chose the latter. This choice and its price tag is already receiving a lot of heat, but the focus is not where it needs to be.
New Jersey already had the elections for the governor and the state legislators scheduled for November. But Christie chose to set the date of the special election 3 weeks earlier on October 16.
“This is about guaranteeing the people of New Jersey both a choice and a voice in the process,” said Chris Christie to justify his decision.
The irony behind this declaration is that nearly half of the state’s registered voters are being held back from fully participating in the electoral system. And, they will still have to pay a multi-million dollar bill.
Organizing the special elections will cost an estimated $24 million of the taxpayer’s money, $12 million for the primary and $12 million for the October election. Critics have already come forward with a list of programs the governor could have restored with that money instead of spending it on the elections. Nobody has, however, raised the issue of how half of the cost of this election will be wasted on partisan primaries nobody will vote in.
New Jersey, like 19 other states, has a closed primary system meaning that only voters affiliated with a party may vote in its primary. However, according to the last voter registration, nonaffiliated voters now make up more than 47 percent of all registered voters in the state, far above the 32 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of Republicans.
The closed primary system discriminates against unaffiliated voters by making it harder for them to vote in the primary. They are allowed to vote in one of the primaries on the condition that they register with that party on election day. They will have to then re-register to regain their unaffiliated status.
This cumbersome process is not only discriminatory against nearly half of New Jersey’s registered voters, but results in very low voter participation. The 2012 June primary had a 8.8 percent voter turnout, one of the lowest in the country. This number will be even lower for this election as the combination of a special election’s primary set in the middle of the summer is the perfect recipe to have the least number of New Jerseyans participating.
The New Jersey partisan primaries are designed to provide parties with the opportunity to select their champion for the final battle set in the general elections. Since half of the state’s voters decide not to be affiliated with the parties and do not participate, continuing to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on them should be reconsidered.