256 candidates have successfully filed for the New Jersey State Legislature, but they’re not evenly distributed across the state’s 40 legislative districts; 14 seats – five in the Senate and nine in the Assembly – won’t have candidates from both major parties on the June primary ballot.
That not to say, however, that all 14 seats will be left uncontested in November. If a candidate wages a write-in campaign and receives at least 100 votes, they’ll be able to make it to the general election ballot.
Republicans have much more catching up to do than Democrats: 13 Democratic-held seats currently have no Republican candidates, while just one Republican-held seat has no Democratic candidate. All 14 are uncompetitive seats that likely won’t see much action regardless this November.
There are two Democratic-held districts, the 27th and 33rd, where Republicans failed to run any candidates at all.
In the 27th district, that appears to have been because of a filing snafu. Republicans do have a slate for the Essex County district – Irene DeVita for the Senate, Mark Meyerowitz and Jonathan Sym for the Assembly – so as long as they can run a competent enough campaign to get 100 write-in votes, they should be able to make it to the general election.
The same can’t be said for the 33rd district, a majority-Hispanic Hudson County district where Republicans have next to no institutional presence. It wouldn’t be surprising if State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) and his new running mates win uncontested in November.
Republicans also failed to find a Senate candidate in the 34th district against Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-East Orange), though they do have two Assembly candidates.
In the 6th and 28th districts, Republicans did field Senate candidates, but they got disqualified for having an insufficient number of signatures. Lynn Lofland filed to challenge State Sen. Jim Beach (D-Voorhees) and Philip Wilson was set to take on State Sen. Renee Burgess (D-Irvington), but each filed with barely enough signatures, and it wasn’t hard for local Democrats to invalidate a few and kick them off the ballot.
On the Assembly side, Republicans aren’t running anyone in the 35th district, leaving Senate candidate Christopher Faustino to wage a campaign against State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-North Haledon) on his own.
They’re also missing a candidate in each of the 15th and 20th districts; Michel Hurtado and Ramon Hernandez filed for the two Central Jersey districts, but they don’t have anyone to run with.
Democrats have the same problem in the 24th district – the only district where they’re missing a candidate – though it comes with an asterisk. Veronica Fernandez initially got party support to run for an Assembly seat, but Democratic leaders disavowed her when they learned of her past comments criticizing top Democrats, and she chose to drop out of the race rather than run without party backing.
It looked briefly like Republicans would be missing an Assembly candidate in the 37th district, too, after Robert Bedoya had his petitions challenged by his own running mate. But the judge who kicked him off the ballot last week reinstated him today after finding an error in her own calculations, likely meaning Republicans will have a full (and discordant) 37th district slate.
If previous election cycles are any indication, many of these 14 gaps are going to be filled in the primary via write-in campaigns, leaving a smaller number of legislators truly uncontested in November. (Even if all 14 slots remain empty, that’s still a far lower uncontested rate than is often seen in other states; last year’s legislative elections in New York, for example, saw 73 out of 213 seats go uncontested.)
In New Jersey’s 2021 elections, of the 15 seats that were missing major-party candidates after the filing deadline, eight of them were filled by successful write-in candidates. That left just seven total seats uncontested in the general election, spread across three districts.
In fact, one of those write-in candidates, Beth Sawyer, is now an assemblywoman. After no other Republicans filed to run alongside Bethanne McCarthy-Patrick in the 3rd legislative district, Sawyer got 443 write-in votes and went on to pull off a shocking upset victory in November.
No write-in candidate is likely to replicate Sawyer’s feat this year. But her unexpected victory shows why it’s important to run candidates everywhere – just in case.