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New Jersey's Extra Election: A Look at the Details - and Potential Price Tag

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[Image courtesy of spinnyliberal]

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision to schedule a special election Wednesday, October 16 to fill the seat of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg has become a source of controversy in the Garden State. Democrats unsuccessfully argued in court that the additional election would disenfranchise voters and, barring a successful appeal of that decision in the state Supreme Court, the October Senate special election will go forward. [UPDATE: The Supreme Court declined the case this afternoon.]

This morning's NJ.com has a story about the preparations for this fall's twin votes, which suggests what exactly the state expects to do - and what it might most cost:

Gov. Chris Christie is ready to hire more state workers and rent extra voting machines to avoid any last-minute chaos between New Jersey's two major elections this year, his administration told the state Supreme Court this week.

After U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg's death earlier this month, Christie called a special Senate election for Oct. 16 at an estimated cost of $12 million -- a price tag that would rise if the Republican governor goes through with any of the backup plans his staff described to the court ...

In a worst-case scenario, the 20-day window between the special election and the regularly scheduled one in November could dwindle to just 48 hours, state election officials said in a filing to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule soon whether Christie must combine the two elections.

Under state law, voting machines are locked down for 15 days after an election, in case a defeated candidate seeks a recount. In addition, voting machines are supposed to be in place five days before an election.

Because the elections are so close together, state election officials conceded to the high court they would be cutting it close this year.

"That would mean that voting machines will be ready for shipment on November 2 [the Saturday before Election Day], at the latest," Robert Giles, the director of the state Division of Elections, wrote in a filing to the court on Tuesday.

In response to claims from opponents and advocates that this timeframe is too tight, the Christie administration also identified several potential elements of a backup plan:

Among the emergency measures Giles described:

• The state is already in talks with vendors to rent extra voting machines.
• Christie's administration is also thinking of buying or renting "thousands of extra cartridges for the voting machines, if necessary."
• It may bring in more "highly skilled technicians" who can help cart the machines around and train local workers on how to use them.
• Counties would receive emergency assistance from state workers if needed.
• The state would provide extra transportation resources to move the machines into place.

"With these extra contingency plans, any conceivable risk to the November 5 election ... will be eliminated," Giles wrote.

Democrats are citing the experience of Stark County, Ohio earlier year after a roof collapse damaged election equipment, costing the county $250,000 to rent 1,000 machines. They suggest that the state's backup plans could drive the cost of the October election well past the $12 million currently estimated. In addition, Democrats in the legislature are trying to enact legislation that would eliminate the twin elections by moving the state's general election to coincide with the October special election.

For its part, the state says that elections are often held close together - and that the recent experience with hurricane-related contingencies means the state can handle the extra load:

"Elections have been and are regularly held in close proximity to one another," said Michael Drewniak, the governor's spokesman, citing "school and municipal elections, nonpartisan elections and primaries."

This year, for example, the city of Hackensack held a school election April 16, a municipal election May 14, and then a June 4 statewide primary ...

"Over the years, these (election) officials have faced deadlines similar to the ones here and have been able to conduct elections with integrity, even in the wake of a devastating storm (referring to Hurricane Sandy)," acting Attorney General John Hoffman, arguing for Christie before the Supreme Court, wrote in a brief filed Tuesday.

This dispute is nowhere near over. Stay tuned.

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