Democrats are campaigning on protecting democracy. In N.J., what that means is complicated.

March 22, 2024

TRENTON, N.J. — On Sunday evening, Democratic Rep. Andy Kim celebrated a decisive win at the Atlantic County Democratic Committee’s convention, giving him an advantageous position on the county’s ballot in the June 4 Senate primary.

The next day, Kim took the witness stand here in federal court, fighting against that very ballot position.

“It’s about what kind of democracy we want here in New Jersey,” Kim told NBC News after he testified Monday.

It’s a broad statement about an esoteric local political custom — one that has become one of the defining issues in a Senate primary with few major ideological divides.

Kim filed a lawsuit last month seeking to eliminate the so-called county line, a unique ballot design in which party-endorsed candidates appear bracketed together in a single column on the primary ballot, and nonendorsed candidates appear off to the side. Instead, Kim wants candidates grouped by office, arguing the county line is unconstitutional since it gives party-backed candidates an unfair advantage over outsiders.

Those rules can benefit some candidates over others in a primary, according to research from Rutgers University professor Julia Rubin, who also testified as an expert witness in Kim’s lawsuit Monday.

Candidates not on the line “look illegitimate” when they are not grouped with other candidates, Rubin said in a recent phone interview. “They’re off in ballot Siberia.”, March 22, 2024

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