April 9, 2024

NEWARK – In an amicus curiae brief filed today, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and Campaign Legal Center – on behalf of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Salvation and Social Justice, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, New Jersey Policy Perspective, AAPI New Jersey, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and Asian American Advancing Justice | AAJC (collectively, “Amici”) – asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to affirm the district court’s ruling in the case of Kim v. Hanlon.

The brief argues that that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it found “likelihood of success on the merits” for plaintiffs’ claim that the county line is unconstitutional and has a harmful effect on voters and candidates, and that ballots must be designed in office block style for the upcoming Democratic June primary election.

Amici’s brief points out that the decision of all of New Jersey’s county clerks in the case to drop out of the appeal demonstrates their ability to switch to office block ballots in time for June’s primary election.

However, the brief argues, if the Court of Appeals were to, at this late stage, grant the request of intervening parties to reverse that already-in-motion process, chaos would indeed ensue – an outcome defendants ostensibly wanted to avoid.

Quotes from Amici are below:

“The district court was correct when it stopped use of the county line in June’s Democratic primary election, and every New Jersey county clerk was correct when they dropped out of the appeal, knowing that the end of the line for the line is inevitable,” said Henal Patel, Law & Policy Director at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “It is a shame that a couple of political players in the state are so determined to cling to power that they refuse to accept the inevitable and have intervened in the case, regardless of the cost to New Jersey’s voters, especially voters of color. We are confident the Court of Appeals will do right by the voters and affirm the district court’s ruling.”

“Fair ballot design is essential to a functional democracy – and we’re glad the district court recognized that,” said Aseem Mulji, Legal Counsel for Redistricting at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “Ballot design impacts voters, not just candidates for office, and an unfair ballot design disproportionately silences voters of color and lower-income communities. For the sake of New Jersey voters and the health of their democracy, we urge the Court of Appeals to affirm the district court’s correct decision.”

“The district court’s decision reaffirms what advocates and voters have been saying for years — New Jersey’s discriminatory and unconstitutional ballot design concentrates power in the hands of a few political insiders and robs voters of their voice,” said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “The League is proud to stand with our partners in the fight for a fairer and more inclusive democracy.”

 ”Voting power belongs in the hands of the people, not politicians who seek power,” said Celina Stewart, Chief Counsel at the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Fair ballot design is essential to our democracy and voters deserve to make their voices heard without hindrance. The League of Women Voters will continue to fight and advocate for voters so they can feel confident in the electoral process.”

“It is often said that the race is not for the swift, but those who can endure,” said Racquel Romans-Henry, Policy Director at Salvation and Social Justice. “For too long Black voters and communities of color have been subjected to the line and the unjust burden it has placed on our ability to realize our fundamental right to vote. The line was intentionally designed to manipulate and confuse voters, undermining the very foundation of the democratic process. The district court’s decision to stop the use of the county line is the result of the people’s will and endurance. The New Jersey county clerks’ decision to withdraw their appeals is evidence of what is possible when voters band together to shed light on corrupt systems that thrive in darkness. We trust that the Court of Appeals will affirm the district court’s ruling, further proving that all that New Jersey voters and defenders of democracy have endured has not been in vain.”

“The district court’s ruling sent shockwaves through New Jersey’s political world — not because the ruling was wrong or hastily made, but because it reaffirmed what racial justice and democracy advocates have decried for years,” said Amy Torres, Executive Director at New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ). “By now, every county clerk has dropped out of the appeal to focus on the election ahead of us. It is time to put this issue behind us and welcome a new day for democracy in New Jersey.”

“The line is only meant to benefit a select few party insiders, which should be crystal clear now that all of the county clerks have dropped from the appeal,” said Louis Di Paolo, Vice President at New Jersey Policy Perspective. “This change is not only needed to bring democracy to New Jersey, but it can be done in time for this year’s primary. Just this past week, counties across the state ran their ballot drawings and unveiled new ballot designs without the line. The clerks are ready for better ballots, the voters are ready to have their voice heard, and now the Court of Appeals can bring us one step closer to getting rid of the line once and for all.”

“No one in New Jersey should have to contend with a ballot design that impedes their fundamental right to vote, and our state deserves representation that reflects its diversity,” said Amber Reed, Co-Executive Director of AAPI New Jersey. “We are united with our amicus partners in looking forward to the end of discriminatory, unconstitutional ballots and a system that promotes exclusion rather than inclusion.”

“For far too long the county line has hindered the ability of Asian American and other voters and candidates of color to participate equally in New Jersey’s primary elections,” said Ronak Patel, Legal Fellow at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). “The district Court rightly put an end to this antiquated mechanism of voter suppression. The Court of Appeals must affirm to ensure New Jersey’s democracy is open to all its residents.”

“No system should be allowed to make voting harder for Black, Latino, Asian, and other voters of color,” said Noah Baron, Assistant Director of Litigation at Advancing Justice-AAJC. “The current ballot design reinforces existing underrepresentation of racial minorities by giving preferential treatment to certain candidates and incumbents, often white politicians, while deterring many others from running at all. Around 11% of New Jersey residents are Asian American, some of whom are limited English proficient or first-time naturalized voters, though only 3% of elected officials in the state identify as Asian American. Residents of New Jersey deserve a system that works for everyone, not just those with ready access to the levers of power.”

In 2021, the Institute and CLC filed a previous amicus brief on behalf of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey and Salvation and Social Justice in the case of Conforti v Hanlon, which also challenged the constitutionality of the county line. That case is still pending.