Last week, a New Jersey Federal District Court Judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s closed primary system, and ruled that only Republicans and Democrats are “qualified” to vote.
The lawsuit was originally filed by the organization End Partisanship, a coalition of leaders from different political organizations who seek to break the two-party system’s hold on primary elections. They stood up for the 47%, or 2.6 million voters in New Jersey who are not affiliated with a political party, and who do not currently have a voice.
The lawsuit asserts “all voters have a fundamental right to equal and meaningful access to all integral stages of the electoral process.”
In May, New Jersey Secretary of State Kim Guadagno responded by filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. She argued that U.S. citizens in New Jersey do not have a right to vote in primary elections, but political parties do have a right to use taxpayer dollars to fund them.
The lawsuit replied, highlighting the fact that the “primary conditions a voter’s right to participate on giving up their right to not join a private political party,” the fact that the “partisan primary effectively dilutes the voting power of non-party voters,” and the fact that the “system violates New Jersey’s own constitutional prohibition against the private use of taxpayer funds.”
In July, Guadagno submitted a reply to the lawsuit, on behalf of the State of New Jersey, arguing “a voter who feels disenfranchised because of a regulation that conditions participation in primary elections on party membership should simply join the party.”
On August 12, the plaintiffs filed a surreply, claiming that the State is “suggesting that there is an irreconcilable conflict between the individual right to cast a meaningful vote and the right of the Democratic and Republican parties to operate as private organizations,” which is confusing the real issue.
The surreply stated that, “Fundamental rights are, by nature, nonpartisan.” It went on to say that the State of New Jersey’s position is one that every voter in New Jersey should reject, due to the fact that their “rights within the democratic process may be conditioned on membership in one of two private organizations which almost half of all voters have chosen not to associate with.”
Once the Judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit was announced, attorneys from the End Partisanship coalition told the Independent Voter Network that they are “preparing an appeal of the decision which will be sought on an accelerated basis.”
“Both parties knew when this case was filed that because of its magnitude and effect on the primary system, and because the plaintiffs were asking a legal question the Supreme Court has not yet opined on, that the real fight would be taken forward through the appellate level and, potentially, the Supreme Court.” said an Advisor to the Independent Voter Project, Michael Thorsnes. “By dismissing the lawsuit, with prejudice, the court has confirmed that the case contains no factual, but only legal issues, creating a stage for the next level of review.”
“New Jersey laws now require 47 percent of voters in New Jersey not affiliated with a political party to, against their will, join one of the two major parties to vote in the primary,” said Thorsnes.