Gender Balancing Requirement Now an Impediment

Former NJ state Senator Ray Lesniak is scheduled to testify before Governor Phil Murphy’s NJEDA Task Force about tax incentives, weighing in on a discussion with "lots of voices, but little reason."

In an Open Letter to New Jersey’s County Clerks, Party Chairs and State Leaders published by
Blue Jersey, Fran Ehret, a member of the NJ State Democratic Committee from Middlesex
County and a labor activist, called for an end to gender balancing in elections for District
Committee and County Chair and Vice-Chair elections as required by most Democratic County
Committees and, until overturned more than ten years ago in a Burlington County Superior
Court decision, Hartman v. Covert, was required by state law.

Although the Hartman decision applied to elections for County Chairs and Vice-Chairs, the basis
of the decision that “the State simply does not now have, if it ever did, such a compelling
interest in the internal affairs of the County Committees of the political parties as to warrant
legislating the gender of candidates for leadership positions of those parties” would also apply to
elections for County District Committee seats.

Notwithstanding the court’s holding, most Democratic County Committees continue the
archaic rules that require male and female representation for County Chair and Vice-Chair and
District Committee members.

In the past, way back when I was Democratic State Chairman, this rule was needed to give
women equal representation in Democratic Party organizations; however, it is now an
impediment as more Democratic women are seeking to run for County Committee seats and
County Chairs and Vice-Chairs, but are limited by the gender balancing requirement. In many
municipalities throughout the state, County Committee positions go unfilled because of a lack of
interest from Democrats in the district. My belief is, if both Committee seats were open to
women candidates or LGBTQ candidates, there would be more candidates filing for the

More than ten years ago, we packed minorities into legislative districts to give minorities better
opportunities to be elected to the State Senate and Assembly. In a bold move during legislative
redistricting which was upheld in court, then Senate President Dick Codey unpacked minorities
which resulted in more Democrats being elected, more minorities having opportunities to serve
in the Legislature, and a stronger minority voice in legislative districts.

In time, well-intentioned and effective policies, as a result of their own effectiveness and the
evolution of the electorate, become hindrances rather than helpful. That time is now and, before
the filing of petitions for County Committee seats and elections for County Chair and Vice Chair,
Democratic County Committees should amend their by-laws and recognize that women not only
make up more than 50% of the population, they make up much more than 50% of the
Democratic vote.

Ray Lesniak is the former Senator from the 20th District.

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One response to “Gender Balancing Requirement Now an Impediment”

  1. Ray misses the point that Committee Seats are delineated and elected by voters and not by population! These seats are the strictest form of one man, one vote.

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