Plaintiff seeks an order requiring the Taxpayers Opposing Change of Government Committee, an unincorporated association, to place the name and address of an individual member of the committee on each sign, leaflet or advertisement distributed by the committee and to enjoin the committee from the distribution of said materials which do not contain the name and address of an individual member of the committee.
The caption has been amended to conform to Rule 1:4-1 of the New Jersey Court Rules. The petitioner, a registered voter in Dover Township, Ocean County, New Jersey, filed an order to show cause seeking to enjoin a committee known as the Taxpayers Opposing Change of Government Committee (hereinafter "TOC Committee") from further distribution of leaflets, and displaying of signs and advertisements in Dover Township.
The TOC Committee is a volunteer association which has taken a position in opposition to a local ballot question. The question will be on the ballot in the upcoming general election. The question relates to a change in the form of government from a Mayor and Counsel form to a "ward" system. The TOC Committee's principal members were made known through
press accounts in the local newspapers, apparently the result of a called "press conference." See, Lawyer Leads Fight to Keep Dover Government, Ocean County Observer, Oct. 20, 1992 at A-1, col. 5-6; Lawyer Leads Opponents of Dover Government Change, Asbury Park Press, Oct. 22, 1992 at c-5, col. 1-6.
The TOC Committee placed signs in public places throughout Dover Township. Similarly, the TOC Committee prepared and distributed to voters in Dover Township written materials, and placed advertisements in the local newspapers. On the bottom of each sign was printed, "Paid for by Taxpayers Opposing Change of Government, Toms River, NJ 08753."
The court finds the following questions presented by this case: (1) Does the petitioner have standing to object to the TOC Committee's action? and (2) Whether the aforesaid signs, leaflets and advertisements are in violation of New Jersey Statute Annotated 19:34-38.1 and/or New Jersey Statute Annotated 19:34-38.3? First, I find that petitioner has standing and, second, I find that the TOC Committee was in technical violation of N.J.S.A. 19:34-38.1 and N.J.S.A. 19:34-38.3.
First, petitioner has standing to object to the TOC Committee's actions. In order to have standing an individual must prove; (1) he or she has a sufficient stake and a real adverseness with respect to the litigation and (2) that there is a substantial likelihood some harm will occur in the event of an unfavorable decision. New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce v. New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, 82 N.J. 57, 67, 411 A.2d 168 (1980).
Petitioner has a sufficient stake and a real adverseness with respect to the outcome of the proceeding because petitioner is a registered voter in Dover Township. As a registered voter in Dover Township petitioner has the right to information regarding the questions presented on the ballot. Any information about who is printing and distributing materials in the area regarding the public question is relevant to the decision making process of the voters. In our form of government, where the
power of the people is exercised for the people through their selected representatives it is axiomatic that a fully informed electorate is better able to exercise their duties.
In addition to the aforesaid considerations governing standing to sue, an individual's particular interest in the litigation need not be the sole determinant. An individual's interest may be accorded proportionately less significance where it coincides with a strong public interest. N.J. Chamb. Commerce v. N.J. Election Law Enforcement Comm., 82 N.J. 57, 68, 411 A.2d 168 (1980); citing Elizabeth Federal Savings & Loan Association v. Howell, 24 N.J. 488, 499, 132 A.2d 779 (1957). Here, there is a strong public policy in keeping the voters informed regarding questions to be put ...