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Pashman Stein Walder Hayden Applauds New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, in Ruling in Favor of Bilingual Voting Ballots in English and Spanish

Pashman Stein Walder Hayden Applauds New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, in Ruling in Favor of Bilingual Voting Ballots in English and Spanish

April 8, 2019
Attorneys

The NJ Superior Court, Appellate Division, issued a decision on April 8, 2019 in a voting rights case, protecting the rights of Spanish speaking voters. The decision can be viewed at this link.

Pashman Stein partner CJ Griffin submitted an amicus curiae brief (at this link) on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, asking the Appellate Division to reverse the trial court’s ruling in the matter of Correa v. Grossi and presenting the argument that New Jersey’s ballot statutes should be interpreted to ensure that in districts where the primary language of at least ten percent of registered voters is Spanish, both the sample and official ballots must be printed bilingually in English and Spanish. 

The facts of the case are as follows: A few days before the 2018 primary election, Edward Correa filed an order to show cause challenging the machine and mail-in ballots in Dover, Morris County. At the time, Correa was a "declared candidate" for a seat on the district committee in Dover. Because at least ten percent of the registered voters in Dover spoke Spanish as their primary language, a state statute required that the sample ballots be printed in both English and Spanish, and as such, Correa argued that the machine and mail-in ballots likewise should be bilingual. Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi refused to print vote-by-mail and machine ballots in Spanish in Dover, and despite Correa’s efforts to earn an injunction before voting day, the trial court ruled in favor of the Morris County Clerk’s Office.

While that election passed, and any injunction is now moot, the issue about the meaning of N.J.S.A. 19:23-31 needed to be defined, and Correa appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that because all sample ballots must be “facsimiles” of official ballots, both the mail in and actual ballots must be bilingual.

The panel of judges, William Nugent, Susan Reisner and Hany Mawla, wrote in their Opinion, “Our polestar is the Legislature’s intent, that the election laws are to be construed liberally with an eye to facilitating rather than obstructing the right to vote, and that absurd results are to be avoided in statutory construction.” The judges found that it “makes no sense to provide bilingual sample ballots because voters are not fluent in English, but to expect those same voters to navigate an official balloting process that is English-only.”

Griffin commended the Appellate Division’s decision, stating, “The right to vote is a fundamental right and implicit in that right is the right to be informed about who or what is on the ballot. Our legislature’s intent with ballot statutes was to accommodate Spanish-speaking voters and help them be informed about the candidates or questions that are up for a vote. For voters whose primary language is Spanish, this decision ensures that they are enfranchised and empowered with information, with ballots printed in both English and Spanish.”

Media Coverage:

"NJ Ballots Must Be Bilingual In 10% Spanish-Speaking Towns," Law360 (April 8, 2019). 

"Mail-In Ballots Must Be Bilingual, New Jersey Court Says," Courthouse News Service (April 8, 2019).

"NJ appeals court strikes down English-only election ballots," Daily Record (April 10, 2019).

"Election ballots have to be in Spanish, not just the sample ballots, court rules," NJ.com (April 12, 2019).