Judge scraps controversial ‘county line’ on primary election ballot

March 29, 2024

A federal judge on Friday took the “extraordinary” step of stopping the use of the preferential “county line” on ballots in this June’s primary elections. The decision is a big win for U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-3rd), now the front-runner for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination, and progressive groups that have fought the system for years.

In a 49-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Zahid N. Quraishi granted the preliminary injunction sought by Kim to prevent the use of county-line bracketing on the primary ballots in June.

The ruling appears to end the use of the county line not just for the Senate race, but for all seats on the ballot and for both Democratic and Republican candidates.

A loud outcry followed, with grassroots Democrats crying foul and backing Kim. At the subsequent county party nominating conventions earlier this year, Kim won almost all of those in which there was a secret ballot — including in Murphy’s home county of Monmouth — while Murphy won the large counties with strong party-boss structures and where delegates had to publicly declare their votes by a show of hands.

Rutgers University professor Julia Sass Rubin, who has analyzed the impact of the county line in elections, published a study last year that detailed the advantage it gives to candidates who have the line. She found that legislative incumbents who had the party line in all the counties in which they were running over the last two decades won the nomination almost 99% of the time and that in federal elections, candidates who appeared on the county line performed an average of 38 percentage points better than their opponents.

NJ Spotlight News March 29, 2024

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