Central Jersey Progressive Democrats (“CJPD”), a volunteer grassroots organization founded in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, filed today in State Court in Mercer County to stop the Middlesex County Clerk, Elaine M. Flynn, from discriminating against female candidates who wish to bracket together for county committee seats and a non-binary candidate who is effectively barred from running for the office entirely. The lawsuit also names Tahesha Way, New Jersey Secretary of State (pictured, below), as an interested party.
According to CJPD Piscataway candidate Kamuela Tillman, the lawsuit came after multiple requests for Flynn to follow the practice of allowing candidates to run without regard for sex or gender identity that has been adopted in at least five other counties. “If I lived in Mercer, Cumberland, Essex, Passaic or Hunterdon County, I could seek a county committee seat and serve my neighborhood with another woman. But not in Middlesex County,” she noted. “We asked multiple times for the Clerk to follow the example of other places where gender and sex discrimination has no longer been tolerated, and we were rebuffed. We are asking the Court to prevent the ballot draw and to direct the Clerk to allow us all to run as people, without regard to gender or sexual identity.”
Tillman said the group is especially concerned that the Clerk offered “no material resolution for candidate Em Phipps,” CJPD’s candidate running in New Brunswick’s Ward 1, District 6. Phipps identifies as non-binary, and has asked Flynn to be placed on the ballot without being labeled as “male or female.”
Phipps previously stated that this choice, “There are a lot of things where you have to choose male or female, and you shouldn’t have to. This choice just doesn’t belong in an election.”
According to the group’s attorney, Yael Bromberg, the county acknowledged that Phipps’ candidacy was a concern but offered no solution absent further guidance by a court or the State. Bromberg said the solution is not complicated. “This lawsuit is not complicated. There is an easy solution already in progress around NJ. Simply removing the gendered designation, as has been done in other counties, allows all candidates to run and those with the highest vote totals to win. It is basic democracy. Anything less is a violation of voting rights, civil rights and the freedom of association.”
“Em Phipps, as a non-binary person, can run for school board, mayor, town council, sheriff, Freeholder, surrogate, either chamber of the NJ Legislature, Governor, U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate or even President of the United States of America. It defies logic and the law that they cannot run for Middlesex County Democratic Committee,” said Bromberg. “This law is discriminatory on its face, and Clerks who uphold it are violating the civil and voting rights of candidates and voters.”
Laura Jill Leibowitz, another Progressive Democratic Committee candidate, said she has been bolstered by support from her neighbors and friends, many of whom expressed surprise that she may be unable to run with another female candidate in her Piscataway election district.
“People are just taken aback that women would be limited to only one seat,” said Leibowitz, “Especially since we elected a very progressive Governor who has supported important changes for the LGBTQIA community. People cannot believe that anyone would be prevented from running. All of us just want to be able to represent our neighborhood and make our community better for everyone. This should not even be an issue in 2019.”
The case, filed this morning electronically, and hand delivered by Doreen Bailey (picture attached), is available on line. Bromberg said she asked for an expedited review and is looking forward to hearing from the Court imminently.
“We believe the law, and the public’s expectation of fair and open elections, is on our side,” she said. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg once famously noted that women seek no favor from the opposite sex, just that they take their boot off our neck. The boot of statutorily-prescribed gendered committee seats needs to be removed immediately.”