Rubin: Seton Hall Law Symposium Examines New Jersey’s ‘County Line’ Ballots

New Jersey is the only state in the nation in which county party bosses are able to choose where candidates are positioned on the ballot. This arguably assures that the candidates bracketed together in a vertical or horizontal line by the respective two-party establishments will win in primary elections. The primaries often serve as de facto general elections. For example, it is common to see primary election signs posted in Newark, the main city of Democrat-dominated Essex County, pushing “Line A all the way,” a promotion of party-backed candidates.

The results of the county party-line ballot system are significant. Julia Sass Rubin, associate professor at Rutgers University who is part of the faculty at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Planning, noted that no New Jersey legislator on the county line has lost a party primary over the last 12 years. No Congressional incumbent on the county line has lost a primary in the last 50 years. There is an average 35-point percentage margin between candidates who are on the county line versus those who are not. 

“The people who get nominated are in the networks of the party chair,” Rubin said. “If you’re not an insider, you have a much lower chance of getting endorsed, and those networks tend to reflect those of the county chairs, who are overwhelmingly male and white. The choice of a few handful of people who don’t reflect the demographics of our state is what prevails over actual voter preferences.” 

Tap Into Newark, 3/3/23