Seven voters in New Jersey filed a lawsuit against the state government in federal court over the fact that independent voters are excluded from taxpayer funded primaries. The lawsuit, Balsam v Guadagno, states that because a voter must be a registered member of a major party to participate in the primary election, the state has disenfranchised nearly 48% of New Jersey voters.
On the other side of the proverbial coin, people argue that a party has an inherent interest in keeping non-party members from participating in their nomination process because the parties are private entities. Those people are correct. Technically speaking, all political parties in the United States are private organizations. However, the two major parties accept hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to fund their primaries and party conventions.
Ben Swann asks, “If the Republican and Democratic parties are private clubs, why aren’t they paying for their private primaries themselves? If taxpayers are forced to pay for the primaries, why isn’t anyone and everyone allowed to participate?”
The simple answer is that the Republican and Democratic Parties control the governments that create the election rules, and have written the rules out of self-interest. As a whole, the two major parties want to have their cake and eat it, too. The leaders of the parties want to be able to control who participates in their club, who can be a candidate under their label – courts have upheld this right – and they want you to pay for it. The lawsuit says that New Jersey law prohibits the appropriation of “money for use of any private association ”
The suit adds, “A primary election is often the most important part of the electoral process. Therefore, all voters must have the right to participate in the primary election .” Why are the primary elections so important? Since the two major parties are generally involved in drawing the districts, they tend to draw districts that will benefit one of the two parties. Because of this, nearly 40% of major party candidates do not face a major party opponent in the general election. This means that in approximately 40% of the races, the candidate who wins the general election would have only needed to be nominated by his or her party.
Mark Balsam , the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, “I don’t want to pay for a primary that I am not able to vote in unless I join a party. ” At the very least, forcing voters to join a party violates the concept of freedom of association. In fact, the plaintiffs in the case make the point, “[t]he State has conferred special rights benefiting private political parties at the expense of individual rights.” They are asking the court to bar the state from continuing “the current non-presidential primary election system ,” and to implement a “Constitutional non-presidential primary election system. ”
I support the suit being brought forth by these seven voters, and hope they are successful. However, I fear that they may wind up with a system that is worse than the one they currently have, and one that may eliminate non-major party candidates from the general election ballot.