Independents And The New Jersey Primary

Independent voters are the majority in New Jersey — numbers from 2013 suggest that they make up nearly half of the electorate — but that doesn't mean that the voting system is designed with them in mind. Can independents vote in the New Jersey primary on June 7? It's a hot topic in New Jersey with less than a week to go until the election.

New Jersey's local Democratic and Republican parties have a semi-closed primary system in place. Voters have to commit to a party in order to get a primary ballot. Since political parties are — no hyperbolic hysteria intended — private associations free to set the rules of their elections as they see fit, they are not obligated to include non-members in that process.

Data from Hudson County, New Jersey (home to the state's second-largest city, Jersey City), points to non-affiliated voter registrations doubling when compared with numbers from the last presidential cycle. Independent voters jumped from 77,559 in 2012 to 135,630 this May. From a game theory perspective, right now, the two main parties have no incentive to expand ballot access to non-members. Welcoming in political novices — or bringing formerly disillusioned voters back into the process — is not without risk. Completely disregarding the power dynamic, from a logistical and financial perspective, the volunteer and donation based business model that the parties use isn't great at adapting to influxes of new people. (New money, on the other hand, is always welcome.)

All three remaining campaigns have been courting the independent contingent in the Garden State to try and convince them to "declare" themselves either Democrat or Republican in time for the election. Independent, unaffiliated, voters have two choices: they could have filled out a form to declare themselves a member of either mainstream party, or they can declare themselves a Democrat or Republican on site at the primary itself. That form had to have been turned in by April 12, which is 55 days before the primary.

So, independent, unaffiliated voters (sorry, Greens, Socialists, Libertarians, etc.) will be able to vote in the primary of their choice on June 7. However, they will have to relinquish their unaffiliated status in order to do so. This might seem like just another expression of bureaucratic inefficiencies, however at the end of the day, it represents a hurdle (albeit not an insurmountable one) towards a truly open, democratic election process that can begin to address the needs of everyday Americans.

Voters in New Jersey can check their registration status through the Secretary of State's webpage.