Citizens Group Files Suit over Jersey City Referendum Question

Seeking to make it clear and fair, today, a group of citizens from across Jersey City filed a lawsuit to change the language of a JerseyCitySkylinenon-binding referendum question on this November’s ballot.

The question proposes moving the date of Jersey City’s local election from May until November. But, as it is currently phrased, they assert that the question is vague and misleading, as it fails to reference run-offs, and contains inappropriate and dubious advocacy for a “Yes” vote – none of which is permitted by law.

The ballot question asks voters whether they to want “change the date of the regular municipal elections from the second Tuesday in May to the date of the general election of November.” However, it makes no mention of how such a move impacts the City’s run-off elections. If voters were to approve changing the municipal election from May to November, they would also be moving run-offs from June to December. The referendum should alert voters to this, as the group asserts that holding run-off elections in December is problematic: Shorter daylight hours, worse weather and busy holiday schedules will likely mean far worse voter turnout.

The plaintiffs are also concerned that this referendum is a surreptitious attempt to remove run-offs altogether. However, per N.J.S.A. 40:45-21, Jersey City may only abandon its “run-off” elections by a binding referendum. Accordingly, the plaintiffs also seek a declaratory judgment confirming that Jersey City can only eliminate run-offs with a binding referendum.

Additionally, the referendum question is unlawfully unfair, they argue. New Jersey Law mandates that ballot questions cannot be biased, one-sided or worded to “encourage” voters to cast ballots in a certain way. Yet, the current question make dubious assertions regarding alleged costs savings and the elimination of voter fatigue without mentioning any countervailing points. The referendum’s inappropriate arguments and advocacy should be eliminated from the ballot, the group asserts, and the question should be put forth in straightforward and neutral terms.

The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Hudson County. It names Hudson County Clerk Barbara Netchert, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and the Jersey City Municipal Council as defendants. The citizen plaintiffs hope and expect a judge will hear their case next week.

Ryan Jacobs, a spokesman for Fulop, noted that every single person involved in this lawsuit was also involved in the Healy campaign.

Jacobs explicated the following points:

The ballot initiative was part of the Mayor’s published platform written in 2012, pre-dating any talk of governor or even his election as Mayor. That is relevant because it undermines the point that [former Healy Corporation Counsel Bill] Matsikoudis is making.

  • The Faulkner act allows the council to change the election by themselves, but instead we decided to ask residents what they wanted. That’s democracy.
  • The administration has no problem at all taking out the language about “$400,000 in cost savings” or “voter fatigue.” The administration’s goal is to make sure that the voters decide what they want. So we will look into the legalities and possibilities of merely asking if residents “Would you like to see the May Municipal election and subsequent runoff election in June, or combined into one single election in November?”
  • That said, some of the ballot materials are already printed. And since the plaintiffs strategically waited until $70,000 of tax payer dollars were spent on that printing, they should pick up the tab for the reprinting. We think that is reasonable.
Citizens Group Files Suit over Jersey City Referendum Question