Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) death yesterday illuminated another ambiguity in the New Jersey Election Code. At stake is whether Gov. Chris Christie (R) is forced to schedule a replacement special election this year, or whether his interim appointee can carry serve the remainder of Lautenberg’s current term.
The last time the state had a Senate vacancy occur outside a regular election period was in 2002, when Sen. Bob Torricelli (D) ended his post-nomination re-election bid due to campaign finance irregularities. Six weeks away from the ’02 general election, Torricelli was under heavy media pressure. Several incidents of potential illegality were coming to the forefront, and polls were showing him dropping behind GOP challenger Doug Forrester. With party leaders clearly understanding that the seat slipping through their fingers, Torricelli was forced out. Even though the Garden State election law seemed clear that the time for changing nominees had long since passed, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed the Democrats to replace Torricelli. The man they had waiting in the wings to do so was none other than former senator Lautenberg, who had retired just two years earlier.
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