The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) today filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey that argues New Jersey’s system for designing primary ballots violates voters’ constitutional rights. In its brief, the ACLU-NJ – a nonpartisan organization that does not endorse or oppose candidates for elected office – argues that the government must serve as a neutral referee in administering elections. New Jersey steps outside that role and is the only state in the country that distorts the democratic process through its primary "county line" ballot design procedures. 

“Every voter has a constitutional right to participate in elections free from the government’s ideological coercion,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “When the government organizes primary ballots around the county line and gives advantageous ballot positions to certain candidates, it engages in viewpoint discrimination and erodes the power that voters wield at the polls.” 

County clerks in New Jersey are empowered to design primary ballots that give substantial advantages to candidates who have won the endorsement of the county committees of political parties. Because voters express their political preferences by selecting candidates, the ACLU-NJ argues that county clerks violate the First Amendment rights of voters when they design the ballot to privilege the viewpoints of some voters to the detriment of other voters.  

Additionally, the ACLU-NJ argues that the state's primary ballot design procedures undermine the right to vote. When the state influences voters’ choices through preferential ballot structure, it undercuts the freedom that lies at the heart of that right. It also takes power away from voters and puts it into the hands of the county committees, making candidates accountable to county party leaders instead of their constituents. 

“County clerks in New Jersey, through primary ballot design procedures, harm voters’ rights to freely choose their representatives and to use the ballot box to hold those representatives accountable,” said ACLU-NJ Staff Attorney Liza Weisberg. “The court is poised to address fundamental issues about the role of the state in administering elections. We are participating as amicus to ensure the rights of voters are centered in the courts and at the polls.”