Court Broadens Scope of Who Can Circulate Nominating Petitions

Nominating petitionsNew Jersey Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson’s ruling in the Empower Our Neighborhood, et al. v. Guadagno, et al. case may have a significant impact on nominating petitions. Empower Our Neighborhood (EON) is an educational and advocacy group that focuses on issues that impact residents of New Brunswick.

Facts of the case

EON filed the lawsuit seeking an order declaring certain statutory provisions contained in New Jersey’s election laws as unenforceable. Specifically, they challenged the restrictions on who may “circulate” certain petitions as unconstitutional infringements of freedom of expression as guaranteed by both state and federal constitutions. The State of New Jersey argued that petition circulators should be voter-eligible New Jersey residents.

Court decision

The court held that the residency and registration requirements for petition circulators are unconstitutional infringements on the freedom of speech and freedom of association rights guaranteed by the United States and New Jersey Constitutions. However, the court ruled that the voter registration requirement is lawful for circulators of primary election petitions and shall remain enforceable. The court reasoned that there is an important government interest in protecting the political parties’ freedom of association rights.

A circulator is not required to be a registered voter of the jurisdiction for which Primary Election Nominating Petitions are circulated. However, they must be a New Jersey registered voter in the political party of the candidate for whom the petition is being circulated.

The court entered a temporary injunction to provide the Legislature with time to implement new legislation, in accordance with this court decision, regarding the requirements of petition circulators. The injunction requires circulators of the petitions to be voter eligible until December 31, 2014. The court stated that if the Legislature fails to act before December 31, 2014, it will indicate evidence that the Legislature believes that age, state residency and citizenship-based restrictions of petition circulators are unnecessary. Any further restriction on circulators will be determined by the Legislature.

For more information about the court ruling discussed or the legal issues involved, we encourage you to contact a member of Scarinci Hollenbeck’s Government Law Group.

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