Let’s not give Chris Christie a pass for election chicanery

The N.J. governor's re-election is as sure a thing as there is in politics. He still played games with the vote

Topics: New Jersey, Chris Christie, Cory Booker, 2016 Elections, Governor, Congress,

Let's not give Chris Christie a pass for election chicaneryNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

On October 16th – a Wednesday, no less – New Jersey voters are being asked to go to the polls to select a new U.S Senator to replace Jeffrey Chiesa, Gov. Chris Christie’s stand-in for the long-time Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died earlier this year. Bizarrely, this oh-so-special election takes place just 20 days before these same voters will be asked to return to the polls for the regularly scheduled election for governor and state legislature.

The cost to New Jersey taxpayers? Some $12 million. The adverse impact on voter turnout for having two separate elections in 20 days? Significant. The partisan calculation behind the election date? Blatant.

It’s hard to know when we’ll hit bottom in shameless manipulation of our electoral laws by leaders of both major parties, but let’s hope it doesn’t get much lower than Gov. Christie’s “datemander.” When announcing his election schedule last spring, Christie justified the October 16th date with his professed belief that New Jersey voters needed as many days as possible with an elected Senator – then proceeded to appoint a Republican who for four months opposed most of the positions held by the man originally elected by those voters.

We all know the real reason for  this “Christiecookery.” Christie wanted to keep the special election separate from his own re-election. As expected, Democrats have nominated Newark mayor Cory Booker, who is heavily favored to become the second African American elected to the U.S. Senate in the 21st century.  With odd-year elections typically having lower turnout than even-year elections, Christie didn’t want a new surge of voters to upset his re-election applecart – or adversely affect Republicans in state legislative elections.

For much of the media, such partisan manipulation was worth just a wink and a nod – even quiet admiration for the sheer gall of asking NewJersey to pay to boost Republican electoral fortunes. It’s hard to imagine the media applauding if a sports team  sneakily adjusted the height of the opponents’ basket or scheduled a game earlier to avoid facing another team’s best player who was returning from injury, for instance,  - and then charged fans extra for the cost of rescheduling.

Such manipulations run rampant in our elections. Democrats resorted to every trick in the book to keep independent Ralph Nader off the ballot in key states in the 2004 presidential race, even as Republican backers tried to help Nader repeat the “spoiler” role he played in 2000. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi strongly backed a redistricting reform ballot measure in Ohio in 2005 even while fighting a similar measure that year in her home state of California. Republicans in states like Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Pennsylvania have passed laws that are clearly designed to hurt turnout among certain voters in the Democratic base. Most Republicans oppose congressional voting rights and statehood for the District of Columbia simply because the District would elect Democrats.

But please – enough already. When making presentations to delegations of international visitors, I regularly ask whether they see such blatantly partisan manipulation of electoral laws at home. They look bewildered. Manipulation of electoral laws is to be expected of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and tinpot dictators, not top-tier democratic nations.

The United States has every reason to be proud of the legacy of our democratic republic, from its founding in the 18th century to the expansion of suffrage to introducing popular elections to bodies like the U.S. Senate. But now we’re moving backward – and the core explanation for that reversal is the willingness of our pundit and political classes to tolerate elected leaders putting partisan calculation above commitment to upholding our right to vote and receive fair representation.

As a start, we should systematically remove opportunities for elected officials to manipulate outcomes. New Jersey’s troubles started with vague provisions involving U.S. Senate vacancies that give Christie far too much leeway. Electoral laws should be clear and always designed to respect the voter. Similarly, we should remove the power of elected officials to draw their own district lines and create criteria-driven redistricting commissions in order to prevent the practice of allowing politicians to pick their voters before their voters pick them.

Fixing gerrymandering points to a broader need. We  need more voting laws that  always put voters. in control. No matter who draws district lines, for example, someone is going to lose out as long as we keep winner-take-all rules where 51% of voters in a district win 100% of representation. But we can replace one-seat districts with multi-seat districts desgned for elections with fair representation systems that allow like-minded voters to help elect candidates in proportion to their level of support — and make redistricting far less impactful than votes.

The same principle should be applied to voting access. Gaming voter registration can be eliminated by using modern know-how to ensure that that every eligible voter is registered exactly once, and no ineligible voter is registered. We should establish straightforward voter access laws that make it clear that any registered voter who wants to participate can do so. We should stop allowing partisans to administer elections and establish politically neutral bodies that can be held accountable to strong pro-voter standards.

Ultimately, we should have a national conversation about adding an explicit right to vote to the Constitution and tolerate such low voter turnout. We should stop giving politicians a pass when they clearly allow partisan calculation to govern their positions on voting laws. If enough elected officials make a public commitment to stop gaming the vote, political shenanigans like the New Jersey datemander will become unacceptable.

Gov. Christie is expected to win easily this year. He’s expected to run for president. Usually seen as a straightshooter, Christie now has a personal story to tell of why both parties should come together to join with all Americans to dedicate ourselves to putting the rules of our democracy above partisan calculation. We should demand nothing less.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.


    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."


    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...