On Monday, November 11, FairVote filed an amicus brief with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a lawsuit challenging the current primary system in New Jersey, which the EndPartisanship.org coalition argues gives the Republican and Democratic parties a monopoly over the political process while locking out 47 percent of the state’s electorate. FairVote, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., is committed to supporting electoral systems that offer every voter fairer representation.
“Because of its familiarity with the benefits and drawbacks of primary election systems and beneficial reforms, FairVote is particularly well-suited to expound on this issue,” the group argues.
On November 3, the EndPartisanship.org coalition filed an appellant brief with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in New Jersey after the court agreed to hear the case. In August, the U.S. District Court in Newark ruled in favor of the state, citing the defendant’s argument that the plaintiffs were trying to force political parties to open their candidate selection process to nonmembers. However, the plaintiffs made it clear that this has never been their intention and every motion filed in court has explicitly stated this.
“Appellants have proceeded from the premise that the State cannot fund, administer, and sanction an integral stage of its election process that excludes a near majority of all registered voters,” the plaintiffs explain.
The plaintiffs argue that the state must balance the right all voters have to equal access to elections and to be treated fairly regardless of political affiliation with the private right political parties have to association. FairVote argues that their interest is maintaining this balance and the “right to vote at all important stages of the electoral process does not necessarily infringe the rights of political parties to choose their candidates.”
“Recognizing that individual voters’ rights and political parties’ associational rights necessarily must be balanced, Appellants assert that the state may not fund and administer a public election process that fails to protect both the major parties’ associational rights and the voters’ right to cast a meaningful vote in the election of their representatives.” – FairVote amicus brief
FairVote further asks the question, can the individual right to vote in primary elections be altered if the primary will be the only meaningful contested election? It is well documented that most elections not only in New Jersey, but in partisan electoral systems nationwide are decided in the primary elections because of the major parties’ grip on electoral districts.
“Decades of settled law stand for the proposition that the right to vote means that state actors cannot hide behind the guise of private association in order to exclude voters from the critical stage of an election – even if it is a nominating primary – that is the only meaningful election being held.” – FairVote amicus brief
FairVote lists a number of cases to support its argument.
FairVote offers the court a few examples of election reform that could appropriately balance the rights of voters and political parties — including not limiting general elections to one candidate per party and adding ranked-choice voting, top-two and top-four primaries, and adding an all-independent primary. EndPartisanship.org is not asking the court to force one type of electoral reform on New Jersey, but FairVote’s list does show the court possible alternatives, some of which already exist.
Read the full amicus motion and brief: