Independent Voter Project
Lawsuit Filed in New Jersey Federal Court Challenges Constitutionality of Partisan Primary Elections
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Alex Gauthier
March 5, 2014 Phone: (619) 356-8257
(Newark, NJ) — Today, suit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey demanding that every voter should have an equal and meaningful vote at every stage of the state-funded election process, regardless of their party affiliation or non-affiliation. New Jersey plaintiffs represented in the suit include Mark Balsam, Charles Donahue, Hans Henkes and Rebecca Feldman who are registered as unaffiliated voters, plaintiff Jaime Martinez, a registered Democrat, and plaintiff Tia Williams, a registered Republican.
Over 47% of New Jersey voters choose not to register with a political party and 42% of American voters now self-identify as Independent or unaffiliated voters, yet most states have primary systems that give political parties special access to the voting franchise and penalize voters who do not wish to join a political party.
The Republican and Democratic Party have prevented attempts to allow non-partisan voter participation in many states by asserting their first amendment right of association. This is despite the fact that primary elections like those in New Jersey are conducted at significant public expense.
Fewer than 8% of all registered voters participated in New Jersey’s last primary election at a cost of $12 million to the taxpayers. This amounted to more than $92 per vote cast. And 2.6 million New Jersey voters were not allowed to vote in the primary election unless they joined either the Republican or Democratic Parties.
Samuel Gregory, local counsel for the legal strategy coalition said, “Today, representatives are accountable to a small partisan base of voters. Those who choose not to participate in divisive partisan politics are pushed out or left out of meaningful participation in the electoral process. We believe the system’s first obligation should be to individual voters, not to political parties. When every voter matters, leaders are rewarded for being good representatives, not good party leaders.”
“A primary election is often the most important part of the electoral process … By denying over 2.6 million New Jersey voters the right to cast a vote in the primary election, the State has disenfranchised nearly half of its electorate, and thereby, given private political parties and partisan voters a greater and unequal access to the voting franchise. As a result, New Jersey’s elections are not free, not equal, and not constitutional for the reasons demonstrated herein.” – Paragraph 5 of the Complaint
The state by state legal strategy was co-founded by the Independent Voter Project and IndependentVoting.org, both national 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations. The coalition includes a diverse group of independent organizations, media outlets, election reform advocates, and other participants from across the political spectrum and from across the country. The complete current list of coalition members can be found online.
The state by state legal strategy is the first organized effort to defend and promote the principle that every voter is entitled to an equal right of meaningful participation in the election process, whether or not they choose to affiliate with a political party.
Harry Kresky, counsel to Independent Voting, is the national legal advisor. S. Chad Peace, legal advisor to IVP, is the national legal strategist. Samuel Gregory is lead counsel to the New Jersey efforts with Kresky and Peace as co-counsel.
The legal strategy will continue to focus on legal and political strategies designed to challenge laws, customs and practices that place the rights of political organizations above the rights of individual voters. The coalition believes that while the two major parties should continue to be an important and constructive part of our election process, a party’s strength should not be derived from institutionalized rules, laws, and court precedents. Instead, its strength should be measured by its ability to represent the concerns, hopes and aspirations of the most voters.
The State By State Legal Strategy asserts three core principles:
1. The right to a meaningful vote is fundamental.
2. The right to a meaningful vote cannot be abridged by a requirement to join any organization.
3. Public funds cannot be used to subsidize the private activities of political parties.