It’s hard to tell the ‘county line’ is gone on these Essex County, NJ ballots

May 3, 2024

A court ruling has nixed the so-called “county line” from ballots in this year’s New Jersey Democratic primary races — but in much of Essex County this year, candidates endorsed by the party machine are still getting coveted top slots on the ballot. That’s even after a process meant to randomize positions so that officials designing ballots can’t deliberately give any candidate an advantage over another.

This year’s Democratic primary ballots will use the “office block” format typical throughout the rest of the country, though it’s up to clerks in each county to come up with a specific design. Candidates for each race are grouped in a box, or “block” — such as President Joe Biden and primary challenger Terrisa Bukovinac in one box. The ballots being used by Essex County Democrats in the 11th Congressional District put races for five positions side by side…

Julia Sass Rubin, a Rutgers University professor whose research has driven ballot reform in New Jersey, is also calling for computerized drawings.

“First and foremost, candidate order matters,” Sass Rubin wrote in an op-ed published by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “There is a rich literature around what is known as the primacy effect that indicates being first on the ballot is helpful. To counter this effect, many states randomize the order of candidate names by voting district. This is easily done by computer and the process of ballot creation is quick, inexpensive, and fair. Clerks would not need to draw names from a drum or exercise any discretion in ballot design.”

Sass Rubin also suggests county clerks should be nonpartisan. In New Jersey, the county clerk is an elected position — usually held by a member of the same party that dominates a county.

Gothamist, May 3, 2024

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