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N.J. Legislative Vacancy Law in Action

During the past two months, New Jersey has lost two well-loved veteran legislatures, both of whom passed away before they could begin a new term in office.  Hon. Peter Biondi passed away two days after winning another term in the 2011 General Election.  Hon. Alex DeCroce passed away the day before he was to begin a new term.  New Jersey election law anticipates even tragic events like these and provides a roadmap to fill the vacancy.  H&H partner Tim Howes served as counsel and parliamentarian to the Title 19 convention held to determine the interim successor in New Jersey’s Sixteenth Legislative District.

It was a good night for democracy in Hillsborough as over 200 elected county committee people from four counties met at the Hillsborough Municipal Complex to select an interim successor to the late Peter Biondi. 

Assemblyman Biondi served the Sixteenth Legislative District for seven two-year terms.  On November 8, 2011, the voters elected him to to an eighth.  Sadly, two days later, Assemblyman Biondi passed away, exactly two months before his eighth term was scheduled to begin.  His passing created a vacancy in the New Jersey Legislature.  According to the New Jersey Constitution, a new legislative session begins on the second Tuesday of January following a statewide legislative election.  As such, Assemblyman Biondi’s seat became vacant on January 10, 2012.

There are portions of four counties in the Sixteenth:  Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Somerset.  Following New Jersey law to the tee, the elected Republican county chairs of those four counties notified the members of their county committees of the vacancy, and of the scheduling of a convention to name the interim successor.  Those four county chairs then worked together to formulated proposed rules for the convention.  Once those rules were drafted, they were circulated to the county chairs and the candidates, then on the night of the convention, they were distributed to all of the county committee persons in attendance.

Legislative vacancy law requires a quorum of at least one-half of the eligible county committee people.  Only those county committee people who were elected in a primary election, and those who have been chosen to fill vacancies pursuant to local rules are eligible.  And only those county committee persons whose election and/or membership in the county committee is duly registered with the County Clerk are deemed to be lawful members of the county committee.  In all, 300 county committee persons were eligible to vote at the convention.  215 appeared and registered.  After the ceremonials, the Convention Rules were moved and seconded from the floor with minimal turbulence.  Once the rules were adopted and the chair established, the convention moved on to its business.

There are some very basic points of law covering a Title 19 Convention:

1.  Notice from the county committee chairs to the members must occur within seven days of the vacancy.
2.  There must be a quorum of at least one-half of the eligible voters.
3.  Only duly registered county committee persons, registered seven days prior to the convention are eligible to vote.
4.  The convention rules must be moved and seconded from the floor of the convention.  (County party rules do not apply.)
5.  The chair of the convention must be nominated and seconded from the floor.

Since the chairs of the convention followed these very basic rules to a tee, the convention went well, and a clear winner was established. 


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