Kim Guadagno, who is New Jersey's lieutenant governor and secretary of state, is expected to run for governor in the GOP's June primary election against Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli. Guadagno is currently considered the odds-on favorite to win a primary election that is not likely to turn out many voters.
Guadagno has served in her post since 2010, during which time she defended New Jersey's primary election law that gives the Republican and Democratic parties a monopoly over the state's election process.
In 2014, a nonpartisan coalition led by the Independent Voter Project, filed a lawsuit challenging closed primary elections in New Jersey. The coalition, which included 7 individual plaintiffs, argued that the current system gives political parties and their members a decided advantage in the democratic franchise at the expense of individual voters, including nearly half of voters who choose not to identify with either major party.
“The natural consequence of New Jersey’s election process is […] the institutionalization of minority rule,” the Independent Voter Project wrote in a petition to the Supreme Court.
“Indeed, interest 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.”
Guadagno argued that voters do not have a fundamental right to vote in taxpayer-funded primary elections and that if voters feel disenfranchised by the current process, they should "simply join a party." Further, the secretary of state says plaintiffs were trying to force private political parties to allow nonmembers to participate in their elections, a claim the plaintiffs explicitly denied in previous motions.
The lawsuit was heard by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2015. The court affirmed a lower court's decision to dismiss the constitutional challenge, holding that New Jersey may decide who does and does not have a fundamental right to cast a vote in the primary election. The Independent Voter Project filed a petition with the Supreme Court, but the high court chose not to take up the case.
Neither candidate in the June GOP primary will likely receive very many votes. Total primary turnout for both parties in the last gubernatorial election was 9 percent of the eligible voting population. Yet, taxpayers -- including the millions barred from participating in primary elections -- end up footing the bill for these multi-million dollar elections.
Editor's note: Asm. Jack Ciattarelli declined comment on the topic. Kim Guadagno's office was contacted for comment as well. We will update the article when we receive a response.