On Sunday, March 22, the Independent Voter Project, represented by Chad Peace, discussed the current lawsuit before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the constitutionality of the closed primary system in New Jersey during the political segment, Politically Speaking, on NBC7 in San Diego.
“When the state gets involved in conducting an election process, it should serve the people, and it should be a system that is designed to get representatives that best represent everyone,” Peace says. “So really the argument comes down to … did New Jersey set up a system that gives two political parties and their members a decided advantage over the rest of the general electorate.”
On Tuesday, March 17, a three-judge panel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania heard oral argument in the case, Balsam, et al. v. Guadagno (Secretary of State of New Jersey). A coalition of individual plaintiffs and nonpartisan organizations, including the Independent Voter Project, asserts that the fundamental concept of equal representation and “one person, one vote” applies to all elections — including primary elections.
“In New Jersey’s case, only half of voters are registered Democrat or Republican; the rest have said they don’t want to join a party,” Peace adds. “Our question for the court was, shouldn’t our election process be designed to give everyone an equal and meaningful vote?”
In August, a federal district court judge, Stanley Chesler, dismissed the lawsuit — originally filed in March 2014 — with prejudice, on summary judgment. Chesler’s opinion cited precedent concerning an independent voter’s right to participate in Republican and Democratic primaries and suggested that, among other things, “a voter who feels disenfranchised … should simply join [a] party.”
The plaintiffs filed their appeal in November, asserting that they never asked the federal district court in Newark, New Jersey to issue a decision that would require the parties to allow nonmembers access to their candidate nomination proceedings. The plaintiffs argue that their suit actually supports this constitutional right of private political parties.
It is unclear how soon the Third Circuit will come back with a decision. The court does not have a timetable so it could be months before a ruling is made.