This action was commenced by an order to show cause and a verified complaint wherein plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 19:23-45 (hereinafter the Primary Elections Law) and seek a declaratory judgment declaring the statute null and void and also injunctive relief enjoining the respective defendants from acting thereunder.
The pertinent section of the Primary Elections Law as recently amended in L. 1976, c. 16, § 1, provides:
No voter shall be allowed to vote at the primary election unless his name appears in the signature copy register.
A voter who votes in a primary election of a political party or who signs and files with the municipal clerk or the county commissioner of registration a declaration that he desires to vote in the primary election of a political party shall be deemed to be a member of that party until he signs and files a declaration that he desires to vote in the primary election of another political party at which time he shall be deemed to be a member of such other political party. The Secretary of State shall cause to be prepared political party affiliation declaration forms and shall provide such forms to the commissioners of registration of the several counties and to the clerks of the municipalities within such counties.
No voter, except a newly registered voter at the first primary at which he is eligible to vote, may vote in a primary election of a political party unless he was deemed to be a member of that party on the fiftieth day next preceding such primary election.
A member of the county committee of a political party and a public official or public employee holding any office or public employment to which he has been elected or appointed as a member of a political party shall be deemed a member of such political party.
Any person voting in the primary ballot box of any political party in any primary election in contravention of the election law shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and any person who aids or assists any such person in such violation by means of public proclamation or order, or by means of any public or private direction or suggestions, or by means of any help or assistance or cooperation, shall likewise be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Specifically, plaintiffs seek the following relief: a declaration that N.J.S.A. 19:23-45 is unconstitutional, null and void; an injunction restraining the respective defendants from acting thereunder or applying the provisions of the Primary Elections Law in any manner so as to deprive plaintiffs, and others similarly situated, of their full rights under the Constitution of the United States and New Jersey State Constitution; allowance of plaintiffs and others similarly situated to file a declaration of intent at some reasonable time to be set by this court after April 28, 1977, which is the filing date for candidates in the primary election; a declaration that all signers of petitions who are registered voters and qualified to vote shall not be deprived of the right to vote in the primary election by reason of the fact that they have failed to satisfy the declaration requirements of the Primary Elections Law.
The named plaintiffs bring this action on behalf of themselves and on behalf of all other voters in New Jersey similarly situated who are allegedly disenfranchised and excluded from the party primary process by the provisions of the Primary Elections Law. Of the named plaintiffs three are residents of Hudson County and one resides in Bergen County. Two of the named plaintiffs are registered Democrats, one is a registered Republican and one is an "independent" voter.
Plaintiffs contend that the Primary Elections Law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Art. I, pars. 1, 2, 18 and 21 of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey, in that it deprives them of their right to vote and to affiliate with political parties of their own choice and denies them equal protection.
The main effect of the Primary Elections Law is to require certain voters who intend to vote in a primary election to file a party declaration form 50 days before the election day. The voters who must file are voters who intend to vote in a political party other than their last primary vote and voters who registered to vote before May 11, 1976 and who never voted in a primary election. Voters who need not file are voters who shall vote ...