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Independent Voter Project to SCOTUS: Parties Should Not Have Power over the People

by Independent Voter Project, published

Introduction to the Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court

ISSUE: Whether a New Jersey statute mandating that otherwise qualified voters join one of two particular political parties as a condition of voting at an integral stage of the State’s election process violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Filed: July 7, 2015

The fundamental right to vote is a nonpartisan right. Under its current law, however, the State of New Jersey requires that a voter join either the Republican or Democratic political parties as a condition of participating at an integral stage of its non-presidential elections. Such a system robs the People of the most important liberty asserted in the Declaration of Independence: the right to govern themselves.



Instead, New Jersey’s two state-qualified political parties govern by default. And because the two state-qualified political parties have a shared interest in suppressing the voting rights of registered voters who choose not to associate with them, the State of New Jersey incentivizes public officials, by law, to represent the self-interests of two political organizations over the common public interests of the People; including the forty-seven percent (47%) of New Jersey’s registered voters who choose not to affiliate with a political party.

The natural consequence of New Jersey’s election process is, therefore, the institutionalization of minority rule. Indeed, the interests of the Republican and Democratic political parties are so embedded in the State’s establishment that the State of New Jersey finds itself here today defending a system that overtly and unnecessarily protects the private rights of two political organizations at the expense of the voting rights of its own citizens.

The State’s true intention in preserving its exclusive system has been made evident in the

lower court proceedings. In an era where the President of the United States has suggested mandatory voting as a possible cure to a disaffected electorate, the State, in defending an election system that excludes almost half of its registered voters from full participation, has explicitly declared that “democracy isn’t easy” and that “the Democratic and Republican parties I guess through the decades or the centuries or whatever... you know you have to do the hard work...”

The notion that two political organizations have built up some type of special equity that outweighs the individual’s fundamental right to vote offends the most basic building block of our democracy. The State’s overt assertion of such a corrosive currency and its acceptance by the lower courts in barter for a fundamental right suggests that this matter is of the type that must be decided by this Court.

There is no legitimate reason to give the members of two political parties exclusive access to an integral stage of a public election process. Doing so compromises the stability and health of our democracy and all of its institutions.

The ruling of the lower court comes in direct conflict with several of this Court’s longstanding precedents including United States Term Limits v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 801 (1995) (holding that a state may not create an election process that burdens a fundamental right), Cal. Democratic Party v. Jones, 530 U.S. 567, 582 (2000) (holding that a state may not limit the fundamental right of non-association without meeting strict scrutiny), and Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 381 (1963) (holding that voters have a fundamental right to cast an equally meaningful vote at all integral stages of the election process).

The argument repeatedly used against the relief sought by Petitioners has been intentionally, yet improperly, framed as a protection of the two state-qualified political parties’ right of private association, a right never contested in this matter by Petitioners. Petitioners do not want, nor legally seek, the right to participate in the private Democratic or Republican Party primaries. Indeed, they seek just the opposite, an end to their exclusion from an integral stage of the public election process.

To be clear, Petitioners are merely seeking an injunction against the current closed primary election process. In its place, Petitioners simply request this Court mandate, not dissimilar to its decisions in Gray v. Sanders and Reynolds v. Sims, that New Jersey implement a system that gives every voter, regardless of their party affiliation, an equally meaningful vote at every integral stage of the process.

There are many ways to achieve this goal without compromising the private rights of political parties and their members. As with women’s suffrage, racial equality, and malapportionment, the equal rights of all voters were not always a part of our national experience. Though now axiomatic, there were those who viewed the elimination of their excluded status as foreign, unwanted, and even scary. Nevertheless, this Court has recognized that the fundamental right to vote derives from citizenship and nothing else. It has also required that changes be made when infringements on that right are not tolerable to our American concepts of individual liberty, equality, and self-government.

Such a large number of voters must not be denied an equal right to the voting franchise just because it is inconvenient to the existing major parties or because the State of New Jersey has a historical interest in doing so, especially in light of the State’s eight percent (8%) average voter turnout in its most recent primary elections.

Without conceding that a direct initiative process is a remedy for this constitutional infirmity, it is important to note that the Petitioners have no other forum available to them in New Jersey due to the State’s lack of a public initiative process. If this Court decides not to intervene to protect the rights of all voters to participate in an integral stage of the State election process, then the disenfranchised have no other reasonable path to seek enforcement of their rights. Put simply, the two major political parties have complete control over the initial, and often most important, stage of the election process in New Jersey. Unless this Court is willing to consider whether this system is constitutionally permissible, these two major political parties will maintain control over the People of the State forever.

This is a matter of the type and timing that historically must be decided only by this Court.

Finally, despite its import, both lower courts have dismissed this case without discovery, with prejudice, and without publication.

Therefore, the Petition for Writ of Certiorari should be granted.

Editor's note: This introduction was originally submitted as part of a petition for Writ of Certiorari submitted to the Supreme Court on July 7, 2015. It has only been slightly modified for publication on IVN. 

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