A Ballot Blowup Is Roiling New Jersey’s Senate Race

March 1, 2024

There’s a whole lot of yelling in American politics these days. Yet what erupted Sunday night at a Democratic Party convention in central New Jersey was extraordinary, even by Trump-era noise standards.

“No! No! No!” came the shouts from the audience.

“This is bullshit!”

The visceral reaction was jolting but understandable. Tammy Murphy, the wife of New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, is battling Andy Kim, a New Jersey congressman, to become the Democratic nominee for US senator and displace the incumbent, Bob Menendez, who is facing multiple, wildly colorful federal corruption charges and who goes on trial May 6 (Menendez has pleaded not guilty). In the room, the chair of the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee—a Murphy ally—was pushing a last-minute proposal to change the ballot-listing rules in a way that could benefit Murphy.

And prosaic local factors like the state’s arcane ballot-design process carry outsize weight in New Jersey Senate races. The political leaders of all 21 counties award “the line”—which is essentially far more prominent positioning on the ballot—to their favored candidate. Everyone else appears in the margins. It sounds absurdly crude and biased, but it is highly effective: A study published last year in the Seton Hall Journal of Legislation and Public Policy [by Professor Julia Sass Rubin] found that congressional candidates appearing on the line had a 38-point advantage.

Vanity Fair, March 1, 2024


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