A special election for Bergen County Sheriff comes with extraordinary complications, if it happens at all.
Secretary of State Tahesha Way has still not certified the existence of a vacancy, even though five days have passed since Michael Saudino resigned following the release of an audio tape that include racist and homophobic comments.
In the absence of the actual certification, Bergen County election officials will not put the office on the ballot.
It’s also no surprise that New Jersey election law here is, as usual, contradictory and fungible. There are two competing statutes: one from July 1, 1971 that creates a shorter window to hold a special election if a Sheriff vacancy occurs, and another from October 11, 2016 that appears to treat Sheriff as it would any other county office.
A decision on which law applies will be up to Way and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. Neither immediately responded to calls for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
If they decide to call a special election, that will create a huge problem for local officials. More than 40,000 vote-by-mail ballots have already been sent out – and more than 1,000 more requests have come in over the last two days – and none of those ballots include a race for Sheriff. This could force Bergen County to reprint and mail the ballots after the parties choose their nominees and after an appropriate filing deadline for independents.
There is some precedent, like a ballot that was incorrectly printed or had a glaring omission and needed to be redone. But never on the massive scale of an entirely new ballot in the state’s largest county.
Among the many potential snags: what happens when a voter returns the original VBM and then votes again on the supplemental one?
Noteworthy: a 2018 election would be for a full three-year term, not for the remaining fourteen months of Saudino’s term. That means only the candidates picked by the county party organizations would have a chance to play; no primary election process.
The other option would be for Way and Grewal to decide that there will be no special. Instead, Gov. Phil Murphy would nominate an interim Sheriff, with the advise and consent of the Senate. And the election for Sheriff would occur in November 2019, in accordance with the usual election schedule.