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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Pot Advocate’s Ballot Exclusion a State Issue

(CN) - A New Jersey man who says his "Legalize Marijuana Party" was fraudulently kept off next month's ballot must pursue his claims in state court, a federal judge ruled.

Edward Forchion sued New Jersey and Lt. Gov. Kimberly Gaudagno, alleging they committed "election fraud" by excluding his pot-happy party from the ballot in the race to represent the state's 3rd Congressional District.

Forchion claims he submitted 208 signatures to support his petition to add the Legalize Marijuana Party to the ballot, but it was denied after only 97 signatures were found to be valid.

Though Forchion placed "Legalize Marijuana Party" in the complaint's caption as if it were a plaintiff, he does not identify it as such in the body, admitting the "party" is just himself.

He filed a motion for emergency review in federal court in Camden, N.J. on Oct. 3, 2014, along with copies of two newspaper articles that had been published by the Times of Trenton.

According to the most recent article, dated Sept. 26, 2014, Forchion filed an appeal in state court on June 19, but it was "stalled until [he] could produce more than $3,500 worth of transcripts" from the administrative hearing.

"The N.J. Appeals court is not acting to ensure democracy is protected, instead [it] is choosing to help state officials censor the Legalize Marijuana Party (myself) by inaction," Forchion's motion said. (Parentheses in original).

He seeks to enjoin the printing of the ballot until a recount can be ordered.

Finding that the federal court has no jurisdiction in the matter, Chief U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle dismissed the complaint with an unpublished ruling Tuesday.

"Both articles stated that plaintiff had participated in a 15-hour administrative law hearing on the signatures he collected, during which more than half of the signatures were invalidated by an administrative law judge (ALJ)," Simandle wrote. "Such facts are insufficient to show that there was an equal protection violation, or that 'broad-gauged unfairness' permeated the process. Nor does the invalidation of signatures by the ALJ indicate that the state's administrative and judicial corrective process has failed to provide fundamental fairness. As currently written, plaintiff's allegations do not support a constitutional violation."

Simandle went on to say the case meets all requirements for federal court abstention from state civil proceedings under the Supreme Court's 1971 ruling in Younger v. Harris.

"First, there are ongoing state proceedings -- plaintiff's case is still pending before the state appellate court," Simandle wrote. "Second, plaintiff's state proceeding implicates important state interests. Each state '"has the power to prescribe the qualifications of its officers and the manner in which they shall be chosen"' ... and New Jersey election laws prescribe the specific mechanisms by which a candidate may appear on the state primary ballot."

Forchion's federal claims would be adequately addressed by the Appellate Division's review of the administrative proceeding, according to the ruling.

"Plaintiff's motion for emergency review invites this federal tribunal to do exactly what the Younger doctrine and its progeny prohibit: to interfere with an ongoing state court proceeding for judicial review of state administrative action," Simandle wrote. "That motion, like the complaint itself, will be dismissed."

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