WATCH: New Jersey Voters Are Fed Up with Closed Primaries

As a born and bred Jersey girl, it’s only natural that I’m stubborn about my politics. My friends and I all have ideas about candidates, issues, and New Jersey government.

However, when we turned 18 and we could finally express our opinions through voting, we were met by pollsters who told us that we had to affiliate with a party in order to vote. I remember being caught off guard and enraged at the fact that I had to join a party I did not align with just so I could vote.

I’m still enraged. But I’m not alone.

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Many of my fellow New Jerseyans are fed up with politics in general. In fact, 78% of voters disapprove of the job Chris Christie has done as governor. So, it would logically follow that voters would have wanted to get out and vote for change in the June 6th primary.

Limiting people’s ability to participate in (primary elections) is a very real limitation on their ability to participate in a democracy.
Dana Wefer, founder of New Jersey Awakens

Yet, this wasn’t the case. The primaries in New Jersey continue to be plagued by low voter turnout — just 9% in the 2014 election. Part of the reason for poor turnout is because New Jersey has closed primaries.

Forty-two percent of New Jerseyans are independent, and since the primaries are closed, they can’t vote unless they affiliate with a party. This is especially jarring considering that $12 million of taxpayer money — including independent voters’ tax dollars — goes toward funding primaries in our state.

RELATED ARTICLE: NJ Voters Spend $100 Million on Elections They Can’t Participate In

In order to see how people felt about this issue, my fellow intern, John, and I hit the streets of Jersey City and Montclair to see how the average New Jerseyan views the process.

When asked why they thought voter turnout is so low, and why so many New Jersey voters are unaffiliated, many interviewees expressed that they feel disempowered — that their vote is meaningless.

As one voter in Montclair put it, “I think a lot of people feel that they’re not heard, and they’re not.”

Dana Wefer, founder of New Jersey Awakens and NJ politics veteran, echoed this sentiment. She believes that voter apathy has increased even more because voters — most of whom are jaded by political parties in the first place — are forced to affiliate with a party in order to vote.

She added, “The reality is most elections in the country and in the state are now decided in the primary … Limiting people’s ability to participate in [it] is a very real limitation on their ability to participate in a democracy.”

Everyone we spoke to voiced that they would like to vote based on which candidate they think is right and best reflects their positions.  As one Jersey City voter put it, “We should be voting for candidates, not parties… something needs to change.”

Others thought that if more people were allowed to vote, regardless of party affiliation, they would be more inspired to go to the polls.

When introduced to the idea of open primaries, not a single voter objected to the idea. In fact, they were eager to learn that there were ways to empower voters and make New Jersey politics more representative.

Politics in New Jersey has not changed much in the last 25 years; people are jaded by political machines that manufacture unresponsive politicians, and as a result do not go to the polls when it’s their chance to create change.

We feel powerless.

The worst part is that the parties have the power to open the primaries and shift power to the people, but they don’t. I speak not only for New Jerseyans, but voters everywhere when I say we need open primaries to restore our rights.

Editor’s note: This post originally published on Open Primaries’ blog, and has been modified slightly for publication on IVN.

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