A Superior Court Judge will allow Burlington County Commissioner Allison Eckel to keep her seat even though Democratic officials missed the statutory deadline by 66 days.
“I don’t see anybody suffering as a result of the lateness,” said the judge, John E. Harrington.
Harrington openly wrestled with his decision, saying at one point that “this is not crystal clear. It requires careful thought and analysis.”
In the end, the judge blame the problem on the legislature, who passed a new law on the filling of legislative and county commissioner vacancies in 1989.
“I cannot conclude from the legislative history or nor from the applicable law that the filling of the vacancy was mandatory within a time frame,” Harrington said.
Republicans had protested the election and seating of Eckel to fill a vacant seat, pointing to a statute that said vacancies must be filled by a vote of the party who previously won the seat within 35 days of the vacancy.
“A deadline is a deadline,” the attorney for the Burlington GOP, Christopher Dasti, told Harrington. “The 35-day deadline is there. It’s written in black and white.”
Democrats argued that voters would be disenfranchised if the seat remained vacant. That countermands a 1990 position by South Jersey Democrats to keep the congressional seat Jim Florio vacated to become governor vacant for nearly a year in order to avoid a special election.
Harrington said a written decision is expected by the end of the week.