A group of third-party candidates filed a federal suit Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey election laws that allegedly favor major-party candidates.
They are seeking a declaration that state election law is irrational, arbitrary and discriminatory in the way it treats minor political parties, in violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments.
They want the court to enjoin the enforcement of the law in what they see as an unconstitutional manner and to act before ballots for the Nov. 6 election are finalized.
Among other relief, they would like a chance to be listed in the ballot’s first two columns and to be bracketed together on the ballot.
They also seek to use the slogan, “Democratic-Republican,” which they claim does not refer to either of the two current major parties but to the nation’s first recognized political party, founded in the 1790s by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
The seven individual plaintiffs, who collected signatures to secure a place on the ballot, are running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, two seats in the House of Representatives and two seats each on the Ocean and Burlington County freeholder boards.
Their complaint and order to show cause name as defendants Lieut. Gov. Kimberly Guadagno, who also is secretary of state; the 21 county clerks; and New Jersey’s Republican and Democratic parties.
The suit targets Title 19 provisions that define a political parties as those that receive at least 10 percent of the primary vote, denying a ballot column to others, and set the procedures for county clerks to draw ballot positions and group candidates.
Once an organization reaches the 10 percent threshold and is certified as a political party, its candidates are granted preferential treatment, the plaintiffs allege.
The case, Democratic-Republican Organization of New Jersey v. Guadagno, 12-cv-5658, has been assigned to District Judge Freda Wolfson in Trenton.
The plaintiff attorney, Richard Luzzi of Oller & Luzzi in Rockaway, did not return a call.
The Attorney General’s office declines comment through spokesman Lee Moore.
One of the plaintiffs, Eugene Martin LaVergne, who is running for U.S. Senate, is a lawyer from West Long Branch who has been suspended since Jan. 11 on a charge of misappropriating client funds. The Disciplinary Review Board recently recommended disbarment, saying he has continued to practice while suspended. LaVergne could not be reached for comment.
Another plaintiff, Leonard Marshall of Neptune, who is running for Congress in the Fourth District, was also a plaintiff in New Jersey Conservative Party v. Farmer, 324 N.J. Super. 451 (App. Div. 1999), which unsuccessfully challenged how officials were applying the ballot laws but did not question their constitutionality.