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The Democratic primary ballot in Camden County for the June 2021 primary election. (Photo: NJ Globe.)

Judge says lawsuit challenging organization lines may proceed

Battle could go on for years, but Quaraishi opens door to discovery and depositions

By David Wildstein, May 31 2022 6:16 pm

A federal judge today ruled that a lawsuit seeking to declare organization lines to be unconstitutional in New Jersey primary elections may move forward, opening the door to discovery and depositions.

“The Court recognizes the gravitas of its decision to allow this case to move forward.  The undersigned does not take it lightly,” said U.S. District Court Judge Zahid Quaraishi.  “However, it is the Court’s duty and imperative to protect the democratic process.”

A group of unsuccessful progressive candidates and New Jersey Working Families launched their legal battle in July 2020, arguing that organization lines provide a substantial disadvantage to off-the-line challengers.

A group of county clerks had sought the dismissal of the suit, arguing that state law grants them considerable discretion in designing ballots.   Quaraishi disagreed with Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella that the “theory of diminution of votes” should be dismissed because it presented a “non-justiciable political question.”

Quaraishi found that the bracketing system used by both parties in primaries “imposes a moderate burden on the right to associate.”

He said that the “bracketing structure is not universal within the state.”

He found that the 2020 congressional candidates –Christine Conforti, Arati Kreibich, Zena Spezakis — and three others, had standing to file the lawsuit.

“At a time when democracy is under attack in so many states across the country, it’s time to reform New Jersey’s unfair and unconstitutional primary ballot system, which only serves well-connected party insiders and corporate special interests.,” said Sue Altman, the New Jersey Working Families state director.  “This decision represents a vital step toward fixing our broken electoral system.”

Altman said that the discovery process “will shine a spotlight on the practices of county elections officials, and we look forward to proving our case at trial.”

“The outcome of this lawsuit will restore hope for accountability in our electoral process by leveling the playing field and preventing partisan elected officials and county party chairs from putting their thumbs on the scales to influence the outcome of elections,” Altman stated.

Off-the-line victories are infrequent, with some candidates frequently separated on the ballot from their opponents by considerable blank space, something called “ballot Siberia.”

Quaraishi was nominated to the bench by President Joe Biden in 2021.

The New Jersey League of Women Voters and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice filed amicus briefs in support of the lawsuit.

Ballot lines amended complaint
Quarishi Order Lines May 2022
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