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Are Primaries, Runoffs, and Special Elections Worth The Price We Pay?

by Debbie Sharnak, published

spirit of america / spirit of america /

When Governor Chris Christie announced the timetable for a special election to replace Senator Frank Lautenberg, who passed away in office earlier this year, many New Jersey voters were outraged.

With the primaries in August, and the general election in October, just three weeks before an already scheduled election for governor, which Christie was running in, the price estimates reached about $24 million.

Many citizens of the state criticized Christie on the grounds that the decision for an October election centered on his fear of a high profile Senate run, which even originally Cory Booker was expected to win in a landslide, and could endanger Christie’s own projected margin for victory by galvanizing opposition and driving a larger voter turnout.

Last week in New York City, Bill de Blasio avoided a runoff with Bill Thompson by reaching just over 40 percent of the vote. Despite the fact that not all the votes have been counted yet, Thompson conceded on Monday in favor of Democratic unity moving forward towards the general.

However, there will still be a citywide runoff for the office of public advocate -- the office which de Blasio is abdicating in his run for mayor. The two leading candidates are Letitia James with 35.9 percent of the vote and Daniel Squadron with 33.2 percent. Since neither received the requisite 40 percent, they will face each other in the October 1 runoff. No Republicans filed to run for this seat.

The office has an annual operating budget of $2 million and its formal role is to preside over meetings of the New York City Council (although the Speaker elected by the Council itself now does much of this work), and, until the next election, would serve as acting Mayor whenever the elected Mayor is unable to serve.

De Blasio also explains that the job entails being a watchdog, ensuring that all New Yorkers receive the city services they deserve and have a voice in shaping the policies of their government.

The runoff though will cost $13 million in the only runoff at the citywide level. Elections are a fundamental part of the democratic process, but they are expensive and it is worth re-examining the process and legal mandates to understand how they can best serve the people, without costing taxpayers too much money.

Should Chris Christie have been required to hold the Senate and gubernatorial elections the same weekend instead of three weeks apart? Should there have been an open primary system for Public Advocate where third parties could be included? Should there be a runoff before the general even though no Republicans are running?

At the very least, it is worth inquiring about. For while the costs of democracy are usually worth the price we pay, the system works best when citizens are better informed and asking tough questions of their elected officials.

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