August 31, 2020

Trump’s Challenge to New Jersey’s Plan for Vote-by-Mail Threatens Voting Rights, Advocacy Groups Say in New Legal Filing

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, on behalf of clients NAACP-New Jersey and League of Women Voters New Jersey, filed a motion late Monday to intervene in a lawsuit brought by President Trump, which challenges New Jersey’s plan to send all active registered voters a vote-by-mail ballot during the pandemic. The parties argue that changing New Jersey’s current voting plan could cause widespread voter confusion, hinder voters’ access to voting by mail during a pandemic which might deter people from voting in person, and undermine voters’ ability to vote in a safe and effective manner.

“Voters in New Jersey are relying on receiving their absentee ballots automatically in the mail. Altering course at this time could prevent voters from being able to participate in the presidential election,” said Paul Smith, Vice President, Litigation and Strategy at Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “Mail voting is safe and secure. The only people who can vote by mail or absentee are voters who have verified their eligibility and identity with an election official. Because of COVID-19, it is important that anybody who is concerned about their health be able to vote by absentee ballot to encourage their participation and keep them safe.”

“As we are about to experience the most consequential election of our time in the midst of a pandemic, we must ensure that the voting process is as safe, easy and clear as possible. Changing New Jersey’s current plan mid-course would undermine all of those objectives – and would confuse and potentially disenfranchise voters who need to vote by mail and have already made plans to do so,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “As is true with all efforts to put voting barriers in place, undoing New Jersey’s current voting plan would disproportionately harm communities of color who are being ravaged by the pandemic, and make it harder for them to participate in our democracy at a time when they have so much at stake in participating in it and choosing leaders to represent their interests.”

“The New Jersey NAACP is proud to intervene in this lawsuit in order to avoid further voter confusion and to protect the format of the 2020 General Election,” said Richard Smith, President of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “As the Black community continues to be ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic it is paramount to ensure people are able to exercise their franchise and feel safe when doing so.”

“The governor’s order prioritizes public health without jeopardizing voting rights,” said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “This lawsuit is an attempt by outsiders to sow discord, undermine voters’ confidence, and disrupt safe voter access for New Jerseyans.”

“The NJ NAACP and LWVNJ seek to ensure that all registered voters are able to vote in November without fear for their health and well-being,” said John Pendleton, Partner at DLA Piper. “This lawsuit is an attempt to suppress voter participation contrary to the fundamental principles of our democracy. We are confident that the Court will not stand for this blatant attempt to deny voters their constitutional rights.”

The NJ NAACP and LWVNJ provide voter education to their members in New Jersey. When Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order in New Jersey that called for vote-by-mail ballots to be sent to all active registered voters in the state, members of both organizations changed their plans to apply for a vote-by-mail ballot because they now believe one will be sent to them.

NJ NAACP and LWVNJ’s motion argues that Trump’s lawsuit, in seeking to block the automatic mailing of vote-by-mail ballots, will lead to voter confusion. It will also require NJ NAACP and LWVNJ to invest substantial resources to re-educate voters right before an election, with no guarantee that voters will realize they now must apply for their vote-by-mail ballots in time to vote this November.

The case is Trump v. Murphy, and is pending before a federal judge in the District of New Jersey. DLA Piper, a national law firm, is also representing LWVNJ and NJ NAACP pro bono in this matter.