April 21, 2014
Re: Recent Court Decision on Nomination Petitions
Empower Our Neighborhood, et al. v. Guadagno, et al.
On March 31, 2014, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson issued an opinion and order in the Empower Our Neighborhood, et al. v. Guadagno, et al. case that impacts the nominating petitions. In this case, Empower Our Neighborhood sought an order declaring unenforceable various statutory provisions contained in New Jersey’s election laws that place restrictions on who may “circulate” certain petitions. They argued that these restrictions on ballot access petition circulators are unconstitutional because they infringe on an individual’s right to express themselves, as guaranteed under the New Jersey and Federal Constitutions.
The court entered a temporary injunction to provide the Legislature with time to consider and implement new legislation, in accordance with this court decision, regarding the requirements of petition circulators. If the Legislature fails to act before December 31, 2014, the court found that “such inaction will demonstrate its intent that age, state residency, and citizenship-based restrictions on petition circulators are unnecessary, at least until further legislative action on the subject.”
The court also found that, for Direct Nomination Petition for local elective offices, Recall Petitions and School Board Nominating Petitions, the circulator for such petitions is not required to be a registered voter or resident of the jurisdiction. However, circulators must be “voter eligible”, meaning that they satisfy the age, citizenship and in-state residency requirements. If there is no legislative action by December 31, 2014, the State, county, municipal and school election officials must ensure that by February 2, 2015, the “voter eligibility” requirement is removed from all petitions and related documents. For Primary Election Nominating Petitions, a circulator is not required to be a registered voter of the jurisdiction for which the petition is 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 Division of Law has issued guidance to County Clerks, Municipal Clerks and School Board Secretaries on this court decision and has advised them that on or before April 30, 2014 petitions must reflect the Court’s order and the older versions of petitions must be destroyed and not made available to the public.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.