On March 5, 2014, the coalition EndPartisanship.org filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey, challenging the constitutionality of partisan primaries. The suit argues that every voter should have full and equal access to every stage of the electoral process, including the primaries, regardless of party affiliation.
Lawsuit Filed in NJ Federal Court Challenges Constitutionality of Partisan Primary Elections
The lawsuit has not gone unnoticed by local media:
The Committee for a Unified Independent Party and The Independent Voter Project, which together form Endpartisanship.org, have joined a group of seven registered voters in filing the suit against Secretary of State Kim Guadagno seeking to have the current primary system declared unconstitutional because it bars nearly 50 percent of all state voters from the process.
“Defendant barred nearly half of New Jersey’s registered voters from participating in New Jersey’s 2013 primary election because they exercised their right not to associate with either the Democrat or Republican Party,” the brief, filed in District Court earlier this month, states. “This action seeks to protect the fundamental right to vote under the New Jersey Constitution and U.S. Constitution from the condition required by the New Jersey Primary Election Law that a voter forfeit his or her First Amendment Right not to associate with a political party.”
The suit goes on to claim that the state, which foots the bill for the annual primary election, is violating the New Jersey constitution by allocating money for the primaries, which are held on behalf of private political parties.
“Today, representatives are accountable to a small partisan base of voters,” said attorney Samuel Gregory, who represents the coalition. “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.”
Most legislative districts have been drawn as “safe” for either Democratic or Republican candidates, the suit asserts, so the only real contests are in the primaries. And those primaries are closed to voters who don’t register as Democrats or Republicans–some 48 percent of the electorate in the Garden State and 42 percent of voters across the United States. The plaintiffs say this:
- Violates citizens’ fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment to an equal and meaningful vote, regardless of party affiliation.
- Tramples citizens’ First Amendment right not to associate with private organizations; voters should not be required to surrender their First Amendment rights in order to exercise their Fourteenth Amendment rights.
- Rips off taxpayers, whose public funds are subsidizing private elections–in violation of the state Constitution.
New Jersey spent at least $12 million on last summer’s special primary for U.S. Senate, according to EndPartisanship.org. Yet fewer than 8 percent of registered voters participated–working out to about $92 per vote cast–while 2.6 million unaffiliated voters were shut out, the organization said.
EndPartisanship.org is the first organized effort to defend and promote the principle that every voter is entitled to an equal right of meaningful participation in elections. Co-founded by the national nonpartisan groups Independent Voter Project and IndependentVoting.org, the coalition is made up of several independent organizations, media outlets, election reform advocates, and others who want to defend the rights of all voters.
Learn more about the EndPartisanship.org coalition and its national plans on their website, EndPartisanship.org.