A Wednesday election in New Jersey? Here’s why.

October 16, 2013

Most elections happen on a Tuesday. Not so in New Jersey, where voters are heading to the polls today for a rare Wednesday election.

Why? There are two ways to answer the question, one technical, one political. Both involve Gov. Chris Christie (R).

The technical answer is this: On June 4, Christie issued a writ setting a special election to fill the seat once held by late-Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). He said his goal was to let New Jersey voters elect a senator as soon as possible. State law dictates that the primary be held 70-76 days after the writ Christie issued, with a general election to follow 64-70 days after.

So under the quickest scenario, Garden State voters got an Aug. 13 primary and Oct. 16 general election.

Now for the political explanation.

Christie was criticized by Democrats for setting the election for today as opposed to having it take place during the regularly scheduled statewide election Nov. 5. Doing the latter would have spared the state the costs of holding two separate elections.

So why didn't Christie do that? To hear some Democrats tell it, his decision is rooted in a desire to protect himself. Having popular Newark Mayor Cory Booker (D) appear on the same ballot could have spurred more support for Christie's Democratic opponent, the thinking went. Under the timeline Christie set in motion, he doesn't have to worry about any kind of coattail effect.

Whatever the motivation, we know this much: Non-Tuesday elections are not unprecedented. Just look at Louisiana, which is holding a special House election Saturday.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · October 16, 2013