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Voters Without a Party Can Still Participate in Historic Election

NJ Democratic Presidential Primary Pits Hillary Clinton Against Bernie Sanders
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Polls are open from 6am-8pm today for the NJ primary election. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Voters in the state's June 7 primary elections will see only limited choices on their ballots, but with both of the nation's major political parties suffering from in-fighting, observers across the country will likely be watching how New Jerseyans vote.

US Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the two Democrats competing for the chance to represent their party in the Presidential election, will each appear on the primary ballot here in New Jersey.

Meanwhile celebrity and real estate mogul Donald Trump has all but clinched the Republican nomination for the nation's highest office.

Though they have dropped out of the race, two of Trump's opponents will still appear on the ballot: Ohio Governor John Kasich and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Republicans in Middlesex County will also have one other choice to make: deciding between the two Sheriff candidates jockeying for the nomination to challenge incumbent Democrat Millie Scott.

In every other race on the primary ballot in New Brunswick, including the campaigns for US Congress and Middlesex County Freeholder, each party's candidates are running unopposed.

No Republicans at all are seeking the party's nomination for New Brunswick City Council. As we reported, two incumbents and one newcomer are running for the three open seats with the Democratic Party.

In both party's primaries, voters always have the option of using the state's electronic voting machines to "write-in" another candidate of their choice.

Candidates who wish to run as independent candidates in the November election, or with another party that doesn't hold primary elections, have until 4pm on June 7 to file their official petitions.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO VOTE IN THE ELECTION

You must be registered to vote in New Jersey to cast a ballot in this election. If you are not registered, you can still register in time to vote in the November 8 general election if you register on or before October 18.

Voters can confirm their registration or pin down their polling location at the Division of Elections website or by sending a text message to 877877.

Registered Democrats and Republicans may only vote in the primary for their own party.  Voters who have not yet chosen a party can pick which primary they would like to vote in, and by doing so, will register with that party.

Voters who never wrote down a political party on their registration form, or those who checked the box labeled "No, I do not wish to be affiliated with any political party," are considered "unaffiliated."

They are the largest group of voters in the state, more than 2.6 million strong, and they make up 48% of the state's voter base. Another 1.75 million are registered Democrats, and 1.07 million are registered Republicans.

Only 5,978 voters are registered to a different party, often referred to as "third parties," and they will be unable to cast a ballot on June 7.

Democrats and Republicans are the only parties that hold official primary elections in New Jersey.

While some states exclude unafilliated voters from participating in primary elections, New Jersey lets them decide which party primary they would like to vote in on Election Day.

"If you are Unaffiliated, you will need to declare at the polls as either a Democrat or Republican then vote for those candidates," reads a press release from Middlesex County.

"You can change back to Unaffiliated after the Primary if you choose."

Anyone who goes to a polling station and is denied the right to vote the normal way--with an electronic voting machine contained in a booth--is entitled to vote on a provisional paper ballot which will be counted if your registration is valid.

Polls are open from 6am-8pm, and no one eligible should be denied the right to vote if they are waiting in line at 8pm.

Polling locations in New Brunswick are as follows:

  • First Reformed Church, 9 Bayard Street
  • Hungarian Heritage Center, 300 Somerset Street
  • Labor Education Center, 50 Labor Center Way
  • Lincoln School, 66 Bartlett Street
  • Lord Stirling School, 100 Redmond Street
  • New Brunswick Board of Education Gymnasium, 268 Baldwin Street
  • New Brunswick Middle School, 1125 Livingston Avenue
  • Providence Square Senior Housing Complex, 217 Somerset Street
  • Public Works Garage, 400 Jersey Avenue
  • Robeson & Schwartz Community Center, 7 Van Dyke Avenue
  • Roosevelt School, 83 Livingston Avenue
  • Senior Citizens Resource Center, 81 Huntington Street
  • St. Mary of Mt. Virgin Church CYO Gymnasium, 190 Sandford Street
  • Woodrow Wilson Elementary, 133 Tunison Road

NEW JERSEY AMONG FINAL SEVEN CONTESTS IN WILD ELECTION

The US Presidential election is one of the most bizarre and complicated political rituals in the nation, and this year it has brought national attention to the Garden State.

Each of the country's 50 states, and many of its terroritories, hold their own primaries or caucuses, often on different schedules with totally different rules throughout the first six months of the year.

It is rare for New Jersey's presidential primary to have an impact on the candidates who ultimately run in November, considering it is usually held long after both major parties have already decided on their candidate.

The last time a New Jersey presidential primary had a significant impact was in 2008, when state officials opted to move it to February in the hopes of making NJ's voters more influential in the process.

Clinton prevailed over future President Barack Obama in the contest, winning 53.8% of the vote compared to Obama's 43.9%. 

But this year, as Clinton looks to extend her lead on Bernie Sanders, New Jersey's primary has once again been hard-fought, with national campaigns descending on NJ.

Neither candidate is taking anything for granted, and in the month leading up to the big day, Middlesex County has played host to several Democratic Presidential campaign rallies and events.

Supporting the campaign of his wife, former US President Bill Clinton spoke at a rally at Edison High School, drawing several hundred spectators to the mid-day event.

But Sanders addressed a much larger crowd on the Rutgers campus in Piscataway at a Sunday afternoon event that saw the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway nearly filled to capacity.

On the same day New Jersey holds its primaries, voters in California, New Mexico, Montana and South Dakota will also participate in primaries for both the Democrat and Republican parties. In North Dakota, Democratic voters will hold a "caucus."

One week later, the District of Colombia will hold its Democratic primary, the final contest before the parties begin focusing on the decisive general election, set for November 8.

From there, the parties will formally select their nominees at their respective weeklong conventions later in the summer.

Both Clinton and Trump are favored to prevail and move on to the general election, but their opponents are hoping that things turn out differently, just one reason that the eyes of the nation will be on New Jersey.

DEMOCRATIC PARTY UNDER FIRE FOR "UNDEMOCRATIC" PROCESS

At stake in the New Jersey primary are a number of delegates, representatives who will attend the respective conventions and cast votes in support of the candidates to which they have pledged their support.

On the line in the June 7 primary are 126 Democratic delegates that will be proportionally allocated based on the results of the primary.

However, New Jersey also has 16 "superdelegates," elected Democratic officials, including the party's leadership, who get a vote of their own just by virtue of their position within the party.

The superdelegates, also referred to as "unpledged" delegates are free to vote for whichever candidate they wish, regardless of how the primaries in their home state turned out.  They will be voting on July 25.

Most of NJ's superdelegates, including New Brunswick's Congressman Frank Pallone and both of its US Senators, have already said they plan to vote for Clinton.

Meanwhile, just two, Assemblyman and DNC member John Wisniewski, and DNC member Reni Erdos are planning to vote for Sanders.

The process of giving high-ranking officials more of a say than average voters has been viewed by many, especially Sanders supporters, as undemocratic.  The system has been criticized before, ever since it was introduced in the 1980's, but never before has the issue received so much attention.

The issue is coming to a head as the finally primary voting takes place.  Going into the June 7 elections, Clinton leads Sanders in regular delegates 1,811-1,526, a lead that will be hard to overcome.

Sanders trails even further behind with the superdelegates, with just 46 votes promised to Clinton's 527.

The disparity has caused many to presume Clinton will win regardless of the remaining primaries, while Sanders supporters still cling to hope that superdelegates can be persuaded to switch if their candidate has a strong showing in the final contests.

The names of the regular delegates who are pledged to support the candidates appearing on the ballot are listed below the candidate's name.

Sanders' delegates include Rosalie Efthim, the founder of the Blue Jersey website, along with community organizer Craig Garcia, Lisa Kazmier, and Joseph Novick, Efthim's husband and a former Councilman in Flemington.  Mike Martin is listed as an "alternate district delegate."

Clinton's delegates include Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, Piscataway Mayor Brian C. Wahler, as well as Catherine Best, Danielle Pocock, and"alternate district delegate" Zachary Goldfarb.

Republicans, who use a different delegate system with less total delegates and no superdelegates, will actually be asked to vote for their choice for President, and then separately for a slate of delegates to attend the convention.

UNPOPULAR NJ GOVERNOR THROWS HIS SUPPORT BEHIND DONALD TRUMP

Though it has not been contested, the Republican primary will decide which candidate recieves all 51 delegates at stake, in a winner-take-all system similar to how the general election is run in nearly every state.

Trump's delegates include NJ Governor Chris Christie, perhaps his most well-known and controversial backer, and a number of Christie allies.

The delegates include Christie's son Andrew, his first Chief of Staff, Richard Bagger, his former Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, and Jon Hanson, who Christie put in charge of the state's unsuccessful efforts to revitalize Atlantic City.

The list also includes a number of current NJ legislators including Michael Doherty and Joseph Pennaccio, and George Gilmore, the head of the Ocean County Republican Organization.

Christie was once a candidate for the nation's highest office himself, one who took jabs at Trump during the campaign, but often passed up opportunities to criticize his friend.

Shortly after dropping out of the race, Christie stunned many of his supporters by endorsing Trump, a decision that has been a sore subject for the Governor, whose popularity at home has been way down since he kicked off his ill-fated Presidential campaign in June 2015. 

His support for Trump has made him a target for comedians, after a visibly-defeated Christie appeared alongside Trump, drawing comparisons to someone who had been taken hostage.

Frustrated by questions about Trump from the NJ press corps, Christie targeted the editor of this newspaper during an April 5 news conference, after we asked him whether Trump was an "honorable person."

Both Christie and Trump have been known for their notorious name-calling, and sometimes using language that encourages violence.

Christie did both at the press conference, calling this reporter a "joker" before telling the room full of reporters to "beat him up."

Though the press conference was intended to address the issue of lead paint, Christie did say that off-topic questions would be allowed after on-topic questions were asked.

Many reporters focused their questions on the financial crisis faced by Atlantic City's municipal government, and the political struggle surrounding Christie's efforts to take over the city.

In response to one question, Christie had indicated that he tries to work "only with honorable people," singling out State Senator Jeff Van Drew.

NBToday saw the chance to ask a couple tough questions, given Trump's ownership of four casinos in the city, each of which went bankrupt despite favorable treatment from the government.

"It wouldn't be a press conference without some joker asking me about Donald Trump," Christie said after being asked how much blame Trump deserves for the instability that Atlantic City is currently facing.

Christie ultimately said Trump was honorable, with a chuckle, before saying Trump was not to blame for Atlantic City's struggles because he was never an elected official in the city.

When another reporter attempted to follow up with another question about Trump, Christie announced a new rule: "one Trump question a press conference."

Christie talked over the reporter: "We're not--Listen, it's you get one Trump question a press conference when I'm actually out here on substance, and the new guy back there--Go beat him up, he's the one who took over with that."

Then he pretended not to be able to hear the reporter's question.

"Can't hear ya.  Don't know.  Can't hear ya.  Loss of hearing."

Matt Friedman of POLITICO New Jersey called the decision to back Trump "Christie's Waterloo," and he quoted a source who said, "In the history of political bad decisions, this is the New Coke of bad decisions."

NEW YORK STATE SHOWS THE PITFALLS OF A CLOSED PRIMARY

New York is one of several states that specifically prevents "unaffiliated" voters from participating in the primary process.

The same is true in Arizona, where many Democratic voters alleged their registration had been changed inappropriately, thus preventing them from voting, sparking outrage and official investigations.

But New York's laws are even more challenging for voters, in part because they require party registration far in advance of the primary.

"New York is the most restrictive state in the country," John Opdycke, the President of "Open Primaries" told a WPIX reporter.  "The rules that we have for the primaries, the rules that we have for voter registration are designed to completely disempower the voters, especially independents."

In New York, the 6.1% of voters registered to a party other than the two major ones, had to re-register with their party of choice by October 9, 2015, more than six months before the April 19 primary.

Unaffiliated voters, who make up 2.5 million of the state's 10.7 million active voters, had to register with their party of choice by March 26 to vote in the April 19 primary.

These important details escaped many voters, including Trump's own children, who found out about the rules too late, and were unable to vote for their father.

Many other New Yorkers, unaware of these rules in October and March, are pissed off and have taken action to fight them.

On Monday, April 18, a group of New Yorkers filed an "emergency lawsuit" which sought to open the state's closed primary so that the 3 million New York voters who swear allegiance to neither Democrats nor Republicans could cast a ballot in either party's primary.

The hearing for the lawsuit was delayed on the same day by District Judge Joanna Seybert, so around 28% of New York's voters will have no say in the primaries.  

On April 14, angry Independents and unaffiliated voters also protested New York's closed primary in a rally organized by nonpartisan groups IndependentVoting.org, the New York City Independence Clubs, and Open Primaries.

The demonstrators, whose anti-establishment sentiments tended to favor Sanders and Trump, called on New York's lawmakers to open up the primary process. 

What's worse for pissed-off anti-establishment voters is that their exclusion from voting on Tuesday may have profoundly impacted the results.

Sanders won between 66% and 73% of Independents in primary states like New Hampshire, Michigan, Massachussetts, and Wisconsin.

But with unaffiliated voters out of the picture, Clinton decisively beat Sanders 58-42 in the New York Democratic Primary, despite overwhelming Independent and unaffiliated support for Sanders.

If the missing voters could have participated in this primary, Trump likely would have benefited as well, not that he needed the help.

In his home state, Trump crushed his opponents, winning over 60% of the votes in the Republican Primary, while Kasich got 25% and Ted Cruz got 14.5%.