NJ debate schedule not changing, though vote-by-mail starts first
TRENTON – The Election Law Enforcement Commission has turned down a request to compress the entire gubernatorial schedule into eight days so it would be complete closer to the Sept. 18 start for mail-in voting.
Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli’s campaign has been most vocal about the election calendar questions raised by the debate schedule, but it was Gov. Phil Murphy who went to ELEC asking for a change – though still not one that would have the first debate held before votes could be cast.
Those debates are set for three consecutive Tuesdays – Sept. 28, Oct. 5 for candidates for lieutenant governor, and Oct. 12. Murphy had suggested that he and Ciattarelli meet on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, with their running mates debating on the Thursday in between, Sept. 30.
“Ostensibly, the request is for the purpose of having more people view the debates prior to early voting taking place,” said ELEC chairman Eric Jaso.
Neither candidate’s campaign spoke at ELEC’s emergency meeting, held online. Commissioners said they preferred to leave more time between the debates for voters to process them and that they doubt all mail-in voters will send in their ballots so soon after they’re mailed out starting Sept. 18.
The debates must be held between Sept. 21 and Oct. 22, according to state law. Because they're within that timeframe, ELEC said it's unable to intervene unless there's an emergency.
The gubernatorial debates are being hosted by groups headed by ABC and PBS. News 12 pulled out of airing the lieutenant governor debate, which is being organized by New Jersey Globe and held at Rider University.
Ciattarelli has said another debate should be added before Sept. 18.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.