(CN) – A group of progressive women and a non-binary candidate are challenging New Jersey’s rule that requires voters to choose one male and one female for county party committees.
A lawsuit filed Thursday in Mercer County Superior Court by the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats said the Middlesex County clerk plans on upholding the one-man, one-woman rule that several other counties have abandoned.
“This lawsuit is not complicated. A portion of the New Jersey Statute, N.J.S.A. 19:5-3, dates back to the middle of the last Century, and prescribes that party committee members for each election district must be comprised of one man and one woman. What was once a floor is now a ceiling for women, and an outright bar for nonbinary individuals,” wrote Yael Bromberg, the attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the group.
Bromberg added: “Notably, this type of sex quota is an outlier, and does not exist in the election administration of races across Middlesex County and across the state. The simple argument advanced here is perhaps further evidenced by the fact that all individual plaintiffs and defendants – candidates for office and election administrators now implementing the law – are no longer men, but are either women or nonbinary.”
Em Phipps, a CJPD candidate for Middlesex County Democratic Committee in New Brunswick’s 6th District, identifies as nonbinary but is effectively barred from running due to the binary gender quota.
Phipps is one of nine plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit Thursday. The other eight plaintiffs are women seeking to run for four committee slates of two women each.
“The binary gender quota prevents women and nonbinary candidates across New Jersey from seeking office, and prevents political organizations across the state from recruiting candidates that best represent the interests of the voters,” the lawsuit states.
Several counties, including Cumberland, Hunterdon, Mercer and Passaic, have removed language from their ballots requiring voters to cast their votes for one man and one woman. In those counties, whichever two candidates get the most votes, regardless of gender, win the seat.
“When the top vote getter is a woman, the statute requires a second ranked woman’s votes to be set aside in favor of a man who received fewer votes. Such a result would have been the case in Mercer County in 2018, however like clerks in several other counties, the Mercer County Clerk believes that the statute is unconstitutional and therefore does not implement it,” Bromberg wrote in the complaint.
The statute seems to be in conflict with recent steps New Jersey has taken as a state to eliminate gender discrimination.
New Jersey prohibits sex-based discrimination based on gender identity or expression and a new state law recently went into effect on Feb. 1, 2019 allowing transgender people to amend their birth certificate with a corrected name and sex without undergoing surgery or any medical procedures.
The ballot order for the primary for these positions is expected to be drawn soon and the plaintiffs are seeking they be drawn independent of “sex and gender.”
Bromberg said in the complaint that they notified New Jersey’s attorney general of their concerns.
Middlesex County Clerk Elaine Flynn, who is the first named defendant in the lawsuit, did not immediately respond to emails sent Thursday evening.