- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2019

Progressive Democrats in a New Jersey county are challenging a 1947 state rule that aimed to increase women’s participation in party politics, saying it now limits opportunities for women and excludes people who don’t identify as male or female.

The Central Jersey Progressive Democrats filed a lawsuit last week saying the requirement for voters to choose one man and one woman for county party committees violates the rights of voters and discriminates against nonbinary individuals. The grass-roots volunteer group, which formed after President Trump’s election, filed the lawsuit against state and Middlesex County officials.

“What was once a floor is now a ceiling for women,” the lawsuit states in its call for a restraining order against the county’s enforcement of the rule, which hampers women from running together for party committee seats and outright bars a candidates who don’t identify as male or female.

The lawsuit also notes that officials in at least five other counties in heavily Democratic New Jersey have chosen not to apply the rule and have allowed candidates to run without regard to their sex or gender identity.

Middlesex County officials are standing by the rule ahead of next month’s primary elections. The lawsuit names county Clerk of Courts Elaine M. Flynn, the county Board of Elections and Secretary of State Tahesha Way as defendants. The plaintiffs are eight women and a candidate named Em Phipps, who identifies as nonbinary.

Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in Middlesex County, said the rule referred to as an “outlier” in the lawsuit, in fact, serves a valuable purpose in a state where political parties are still run mostly by men.

“This is a real mixed bag, because I think that particularly here in New Jersey, we have seen women really not moving forward and, in large part, it’s because of a closed party system,” said Ms. Walsh, who is not involved in the lawsuit.

She said she is sympathetic to the need for inclusion of nonbinary people in the political process but fears that removing the one-man, one-woman rule would result in a loss of female representation in political party operations.

“County party chairs make the lion’s share of [decisions about] who gets to run and who doesn’t, so anything that forces the hand of the parties to be more inclusive in terms of gender is a good thing,” Ms. Walsh said.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs hypothesize about a worst case scenario in which two women receive the most votes for two county party committee positions, but a man who finished third takes the second seat. They also imply that sexism in local politics has been largely eradicated.

“The simple argument advanced here is perhaps further evidenced by the fact that all individual plaintiffs and defendants — candidates for office and election administrators now implementing the law — are no longer male, but are either women or nonbinary,” the lawsuit states.

Of the top 21 county Democratic Party leadership positions in the state, only four are held by women. In the 17 counties where men are party chairs, women serve as vice chairs.

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