The following appeared in The New Jersey Globe on February 26, 2023
If you doubt that the New Jersey state legislature is broken, you need look no further than the Orwellian named “Election Transparency Act”, legislation scheduled for votes on Monday by the State Senate and Assembly that is almost comically bad. The bill is an open invitation for corruption and abuse — gutting the watchdog organization responsible for clean election oversight, eliminating protections against pay to play, dramatically increasing campaign spending, and many other bad government ideas.
Like all terrible legislation, this bill is receiving the Jersey political machine treatment – loaded up with bad amendments in committee on Thursday, then rushed to a vote by the full Senate and Assembly the following Monday, before the public can find out what is happening.
The bill is being propelled forward by the Senate and Assembly Democratic leadership with no Republican support. Why would rank and file Democratic legislators vote for such a terrible bill, especially in an election year? Because they understand that in New Jersey, their political future depends on pleasing the party leadership, not the voters.
With most of New Jersey’s forty legislative districts dominated by either the Republican or Democratic party, the real election takes place in the primary. To win a primary, a state legislator needs the support of the county party chair, who has the power to award preferential position on the primary ballot as part of what is known as the county line.
How important is the county line? No incumbent New Jersey state legislator running on the county line has lost a primary in twelve years. In the rest of the country, more than 2,000 state legislators have lost primaries during that time.
In 2021, five incumbent New Jersey state legislators were kicked off the county line in at least one of the counties they represent. Four of them lost in those counties. The fifth decided not to seek reelection without the county line because he knew it would be futile.
New Jersey is the only state with a county line primary ballot. It is also a state with a rich history of political corruption and bad government. The bill the legislature is set to vote on Monday is exhibit A.
Julia Sass Rubin is the Associate Dean of Academic Programs, Director of the Public Policy Program, and an Associate Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. She has written about New Jersey’s unique county line primary ballot and New Jersey’s political machines.