“History suggests it’s an incredibly powerful force,” says Julia Sass Rubin. Her research shows that in the past 20 years, New Jersey incumbents running on the line finished with a record of 206 wins and only three losses.
Representative Andy Kim, a Democrat running for Senate in New Jersey against the state’s first lady, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday that seeks to redesign the ballot before June’s contentious primary election, arguing the current layout unfairly benefits candidates supported by party leaders.
“Legislators elected with the help of leadership PACs become beholden to the leadership and more likely to vote for them as leaders, further concentrating power in their hands,” Rubin said.
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.
Murphy could choose independently to disavow the line. And experts I spoke to — Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin and Brett Pugach, the lead attorney on a lawsuit challenging the line’s constitutionality — agreed that’s the case.
“Everybody else is scattered across the ballot in different ways but always in a different column or row from the people on the line, and this has the effect of confusing voters as to what their choices are,” Rubin said.
Indeed, a statewide primary candidate’s line position in most counties makes him or her virtually unbeatable. This was extensively documented by a recent study by the eminent professor, Dr. Julia Sass Rubin at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.
Kim’s campaign has attracted activists who have mobilized in recent years in an effort to reform or abolish the county party ballot “line,” based on research by Prof. Julia Sass Rubin.
It took Tammy Murphy just weeks to win the backing of key New Jersey Democratic leaders in her bid for Senate. In a state where party bosses still carry strong influence in elections, that could ordinarily be enough to ensure her nomination — giving the New Jersey first lady preferential ballot positioning right below President Joe Biden in many critical counties.
If you’re not in-the-know, The Line is where you want to be on the ballot if you’re running for office in New Jersey. Candidates granted The Line by NJ’s political gatekeepers are almost assured of victory, especially in a primary election. That’s why NJ’s powerful political machines invest so much time and treasure into determining who gets the line and (perhaps more importantly) who doesn’t.