Progressives File for Committee Seats, Challenge Discriminatory Law
Women, LGBTQIA candidates urge County Clerks to End Gender Identity Requirements for Office
Middlesex County – On Tuesday, 60 Progressive Democrats from Piscataway, New Brunswick, Monroe and Jamesburg filed petitions to run for County Committee in the June 4, 2019 Primary. Founded in the wake of the 2016 election, CJPD ran candidates across the county in 2017 and won seats in New Brunswick, Piscataway and Old Bridge. This year, petitioners include four sets of candidate slates with two women and a non-binary candidate in a challenge to an antiquated male/female rule governing party seats. The rule stipulates that the two committee members representing each election district must be male and female.
Some counties have moved away this rule, which dates back to the 1950s, by relying onHartman v Convert, a 1997 court decision that found the male/female requirements in county party offices to be unconstitutional and discriminatory on the basis of sex. More recently, NJ has made significant changes to gender identity identification policies, allowing individuals to choose “non-binary/undesignated” on birth certificates. Gender identity is already an optional choice on voter registration forms. Despite these developments in women’s and LGBTQIA rights, many counties continue to enforce what the candidates called a discriminatory and outdated practice.
Quiyana Butler, who is running for Committee alongside her Ward 3, District 4 Piscataway neighbor Doreen Wilson, noted that while the one man/one woman per district rule may have been useful at some point in the past, it is no longer needed, pointing to the record number of women being elected around the country.
“I was inspired by the number of women who have recently been elected to Congress. I believe it is our time to shine. It is unfortunate that there are outdated laws that prevent two women from representing one district together,” Butler said. She noted that no gender quota limitation exists for any other political office in the state or country.
“Gender should not play a role in politics in this day and age,” said Maggie Doyle Ball, a hospice nurse and 40-year resident of Piscataway running for the first time in her neighborhood. “If two men, or two women, or two people who don’t wish to declare their gender want to run together and share their energy and commitment to their community, then they should be allowed to do so.” Ball filed to run with her neighbor, Laura Jill Leibowitz, in the Township’s Ward 3, District 10.
Central Jersey Progressive Democrats asked the County Clerks in Middlesex, Union and Warren if they would follow the lead of their counterparts in Mercer, Essex, Passaic, Hunterdon and Cumberland counties to allow candidates to run without regard to gender identity. Thus far, only Union County has responded, according to the group’s attorney, Yael Bromberg. Union County stated that it will adhere to the male/female requirement, she said.
Wilson said she was disappointed that some clerks are still adhering to the old rules. “This is another example of gender bias. To think County Committee representation will only be balanced by a member of each gender suggests an inferior view of a woman’s ability to be fair, balanced and intellectually representative of all people. This bias has already been recognized as out of touch and inappropriate by several other counties in New Jersey and hence reversed in practice.”
Em Phipps, CJPD’s candidate in New Brunswick’s Ward 1, District 6 has formally requested to be identified without the male/female designation on the ballot. Phipps identifies as non-binary. The gender identity requirement is at odds with New Jersey’s strong anti-discrimination laws, civil rights protections, and support for LGBTQIA individuals. Gov. Murphy recently signed the Babs Siperstein law, making New Jersey the fourth state to add a gender-neutral option on birth certificates.
“People take the male/female requirement for granted. 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,” said Phipps.
Kamuela Tillman, also running in Piscataway along with another woman for Committee, noted, “Gender alone should not presuppose the effectiveness of the role we play in the democratic process. To continue this rule stifles the effectiveness and purpose of the democratic process. And it undoes years of progress and struggle for access to democracy.” Other candidates agreed that this is a voting and civil rights issue.
“As a mother, wife and educator, I know the importance of voting rights for women and African Americans,” said Dr. Remi Christofferson, a candidate in Piscataway’s Ward 1. “In the 1800’s, the rights of women and African Americans were challenged across the nation. It saddens me that we are now dealing with similar issues that will affect my ability to run for office. My goal is to be the voice of my community, and I hope to have the right to do that.”
Democratic women make up more than 50% of NJ’s Democratic Party and in Middlesex County, but this rule keeps them from being more fully represented, said Leibowitz. “Voters, not the state, should decide who represent us. Our members and voters across these counties want to be able to select candidates of their choosing, without being subject to this antiquated rule.”
CJPD candidates are working to ensure that Democrats promote progressive policies at every level of government, said Mindy Goldstein, candidate and CJPD spokesperson. “We want our elected officials to support policies like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All in Congress, and to be forward thinking, transparent and accountable locally. We are working to bring new voices and ideas to the Democratic Party. Expanding representation of women and LGBTQIA individuals is an essential part of making the Democratic Party stronger,” she said.
Bromberg said the group is waiting to hear from the Middlesex and Warren County Clerks, and has also notified the state’s Attorney General of the organization’s concerns. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg famously said that there will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine. It is long-due to remove gender quotas and gender bias from NJ’s elections. This is classic sex and gender-discrimination, and a violation of the fundamental right to vote,” Bromberg said. She noted that candidates will decide on next steps soon.