Learn with the Intern: New Jersey's Closed Primaries - Open Primaries
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Posted by Samantha Serrano on July 29, 2015 at 12:21 PM

Learn with the Intern: New Jersey's Closed Primaries

New-Jersey.gifWithin the past few weeks, the mission of Open Primaries has been hitting close to home for me as the Independent Voter Project (IVP) is currently petitioning SCOTUS  for Writ of Certiorari to challenge the constitutionality of New Jersey’s closed primary system.

New Jersey utilizes a strictly closed primary process, in which the selection of a party's candidates in an election is limited to registered party members. In other words, independent and unaffiliated voters cannot vote in the primary elections in this state.  New Jersey exemplifies the exact system that Open Primaries is working so diligently to change to promote nonpartisan voter equality.

IndependentVoting.org and 7 individual plaintiffs are making the argument that the current election process in New Jersey gives political parties and their members a decided advantage in the election process at the expense of individual voters, including the 47 percent who choose not to affiliate with either major political party, according to an article in the IVN.  

Specifically, the writ challenges a lower court's ruling as improperly framed as a protection of the two state-qualified political parties' right of private association, a right never contested. The coalition does not want, nor legally seeks, the right to participate in private Democratic or Republican Party primaries, as stated in The Bergen Dispatch. They wish to see an end to their exclusion from an integral stage of the public election process. The system in place disenfranchises citizens of the most important liberty asserted in the Declaration of Independence: the right to govern themselves through voting for elected officials.

S. Chad Peace, of IVP and one of the coalition's attorneys has been quoted saying:

"The notion that two partisan political organizations have built special equity that outweighs the individual's fundamental right to vote offends the most basic building block of our democracy. 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 democracy and all of its institutions."

Does this issue ring a bell?  It should. This case appears to mirror the rise in individual voter's rights issues and the explosive growth of voters choosing to not affiliate with either major political party, nationwide. The Supreme Court made it clear in the recent Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission case, that, in Justice Ginsberg's words: "The animating principle of our Constitution is that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government."

The average voter turnout in New Jersey’s primary elections is near 8 percent, and it costs taxpayers $12 million to administer each election cycle. However, even with these facts, Governor Chris Christie’s administration defends its taxpayer-funded, exclusive and private, closed-primary election process against this legal challenge asserting the right of all voters to be treated equally.

An article written for the San Diego City Beat explains exactly how Christie feels about the issue at hand. The Christie administration argued: “…a voter who feels disenfranchised because of a regulation that conditions participation in primary elections on party membership should simply join the party…”  

Voters of all races, genders, ages, economic statuses and religions are leaving the political parties because they don’t feel like either party adequately represents them. By self-identification, these voters now outnumber Republicans and Democrats, so why should they have to conform with outdated societal expectations?  

Additionally, the IVP cites previous court rulings (including Reynolds v. Sims and Gray v. Sanders, where the Supreme Court first articulated the “one person, one vote” standard), arguing that the Supreme Court has already upheld the fundamental right all voters have to full and equal participation in all integral stages of the elections process many times--something the lower courts have not disputed in their decisions.

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Previously, the IVP successfully authored California’s landmark nonpartisan, top-two primary election reform, which voters approved under Proposition 14 in 2010. The organization has made it clear that it does not seek to establish top-two as the only alternative system, but hopefully they can work to open the Garden State’s primaries in time for 2016.


Originally from New Jersey, Samantha Serrano is currently a rising sophomore at The George Washington University located in Washington, DC.  Samantha has had a passion for government and politics throughout her educational journey, which sparked her interest to intern at Open Primaries Inc. in Manhattan. 

In high school, Samantha was very actively involved in extracurricular activities as the Student Government President, Class Council Secretary, and Treasurer of the New Jersey Assoc. of Student Councils while maintaining her GPA to graduate in the top 2% of her class. 

Now attending one of the most politically active schools in the country, Samantha plans to take the experience she gains from interning at Open Primaries Inc. and apply it to her future endeavors at school as well as her future career.


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published this page in Blog 2015-07-29 12:21:29 -0400