Have you heard of this thing called ‘the line’?

February 9, 2024

With so few policy differences between Andy Kim and Tammy Murphy, the ballot benefit of the county line has dominated the race so far. Murphy is expected to have it in all but the more small-d democratic counties, where the decisions of political bosses don’t carry as much weight and candidates can genuinely compete for it.

On Thursday, Kim and two other candidates in the race — Patricia Campos Medina and Lawrence Hamm — sent letters to the 19 clerks and Democratic chairs of the counties that employ the line, asking them to instead set up their ballots with an “office block” design. Just two counties — Sussex and Salem — do not structure their ballots with the line.

“Party organizations will still be able to list the slogans of candidates, but the credibility of this primary necessitates your action to ensure that the election is seen as fair for all candidates – and for all voters – with a ballot that does not give any single candidate a state-conferred advantage by design,” read the letter to county clerks.

From what we’ve seen of this race so far, Tammy Murphy will need county lines. Kim has an early lead in the only public poll so far, and anyone paying attention can see he has a much more enthusiastic base of support.

In response, the Murphy campaign shot back that Kim was happy to accept the line in his congressional races. “All of the candidates in this race are actively seeking county lines and party support in this campaign by participating in screenings, forums, and earning votes at conventions,” Tammy Murphy spokesperson Alex Altman said. “Congressman Kim has also happily ran on county lines with party support in every single election he’s ever run in. Congressman Kim seems to be of the opinion that when he receives a county line it’s OK, but when someone else does, it’s not.”

The candidates didn’t invite Murphy to sign on to the letter. But she’d been asked directly during a Morris County event a few weeks ago whether she would forgo it. She avoided answering the question directly. “We’ve got a great New Jersey primary system that is set up by statute. That’s what it is right now. If the statute should change, then we all operate under a different system,” she said.

My understanding is that the law on whether a county has to structure its ballots with the line is somewhat gray, though it can’t be too strict if two counties don’t do it. But a follow-up question at the Morris event made clear that Murphy could choose independently to disavow the line. And experts I spoke to — Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin and Brett Pugach, the lead attorney on a lawsuit challenging the line’s constitutionality — agreed that’s the case.

“If all the Senate candidates decide none of us are going to bracket with anyone else, then you’re not going to have a county line as it pertains to those candidates,” he said.

Politico, February 9, 2024

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