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Seventh Circuit Strikes Down Partisan Judicial Elections in Indiana

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published
"When an election law reduces or forecloses the opportunity for electoral choice, it restricts a market where a voter might effectively and meaningfully exercise his choice between competing ideas or candidates, and thus severely burdens the right to vote." - U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals

On September 9, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower district court's ruling that the Partisan Balance Statute in Indiana election law limited voter choice in judicial elections in Marion County, placed a severe burden on "the right of voters to have an effective voice in the general election," and thus violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Partisan Balance Statute said no single party could nominate a candidate for more than half of the seats up for election for the Marion County Superior Court. Since the candidates of only two political parties regularly qualify and run for the November ballot in Indiana, this left voters with no choice at all in many elections.

A coalition of nonpartisan organizations and 7 individual plaintiffs is currently petitioning the Supreme Court to hear a similar lawsuit filed in New Jersey, challenging the constitutionality of the state's closed partisan primary system. The coalition argues that the closed primary violates the individual's fundamental right to equal and meaningful participation in all integral stages of the voting process, thus giving a decided advantage to the two major parties and their members over elections.

This reduces the opportunity for electoral choice for the roughly 47% of New Jersey voters who choose not to affiliate with either major party and restricts the "market where a voter might effectively and meaningfully exercise" their choice between competing ideas and candidates.

Read more about the New Jersey lawsuit here.

Read the Seventh Circuit's full opinion:

Editor's note: The article initially said Indiana had a closed primary system, a term used by the judges of the Seventh Circuit. Voters are not required to register with a party, and can choose between a Republican or Democratic primary ballot. However, a voter must have voted in the last general election for a majority of the nominees of the party holding the primary. If the voter did not vote in the last general election, he or she must vote for a majority of the nominees of the party holding the primary. 

Photo Source: WGN - Chicago

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