Fighting New Jersey’s Ballot Bosses

March 11, 2024

Sometimes election meddling takes place in plain view. Consider New Jersey’s “party line” ballots, which let county bosses put their favored primary candidates front and center, relegating the rest to the periphery. A lawsuit in this year’s Senate race is asking for ballots based on fairness, instead of orders from the local heavy.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who is under indictment for an alleged bribe, might still seek re-election, but his support has collapsed, and he faces a bevy of challengers in the June primary. One candidate is Tammy Murphy, who enjoys strong relationships with county leaders, thanks to her even stronger relationship with the state’s Governor, who happens to be her husband, Phil Murphy.

That made her the favorite to win prime ballot placement. In 19 of the state’s 21 counties, party committees endorse a slate of candidates for office that are grouped together on the ballot, often in the same column. That usually includes current officeholders and other insiders. The rest are printed in other columns that can run to the edge of the ballot, giving voters the impression that they’re fringe candidates.

Wall Street Journal, March 11, 2024

A recent study conducted by Julia Sass Rubin, a professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, examined 45 congressional and Senate races in New Jersey between 2002 and 2022. The study found that on average, county-endorsed candidates placed in the line enjoyed a 38-point advantage.

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