New Jersey: A Hidden Home of Voter Suppression

February 12, 2024

Many voters in New Jersey do not know that we are the only state in the country to use a confusing, undemocratic form of ballot, but it’s true – and a source of corruption. It’s called, seemingly innocuously, the “county line.” Every two years at a minimum, the line sneaks into our primaries, unannounced so to speak, and skews the results. And we have the data to prove it (more on that in a moment).

Defenders of the line, usually county and state party leaders, will say good candidates can win regardless of their position on the ballot. But the data say otherwise.  

Rutgers University professor Julia Sass Rubin has done prodigious work analyzing the effects of the county line on four recent primaries for state and federal offices. Her results are stark and unequivocal. According to Prof. Rubin’s findings, primary challengers will frequently drop out because they fear wasting the time and expense of running for office if they don’t have the line. Similarly, the power of county bosses to pick their favorite candidates depressed the number of women running for office in New Jersey.  Irrespective of gender, candidates performed 35% better on the line than their opponents. Given these findings and data, voter suppression seems a just call. Choosing preordained candidates from neatly organized lines does not seem to be a fair ballot.

How to respond?  Prof. Rubin’s research has been published in respected law journals. Hers has also been incorporated into a federal lawsuit brought by the Working Families Alliance. The lawsuit challenges the ballot design as violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the election clause of the U.S. Constitution. In May 2022, a judge denied the attempt of opponents to squash this lawsuit, ruling it may proceed to trial.

Good Party, February 12, 2024

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