The future of New Jersey politics is on the line

March 24, 2024

Sen. Bob Menendez was the quintessential New Jersey Democratic machine politician. Now he may have inadvertently become the biggest reformer Garden State politics has ever known.

Menendez’s scathing federal corruption indictment in September unleashed a chain of events that’s led to state leaders talking about sweeping ballot reform and a federal judge weighing whether to force wholesale election changes. New Jersey may be on the cusp of fundamentally rewriting the way state politics has been played for a century.

The line, used by the leadership of both parties in a state Democrats dominate, has long been a sore spot with progressives. But a lawsuit they filed alleging its unconstitutionality in 2021 has moved at a glacial pace — until just weeks ago, when Kim filed his own lawsuit that largely mirrored that one, even using the same lawyers. But this one was placed on the fast track.

Nineteen of the state’s 21 counties use the line, and its effect on elections has long been debated in New Jersey political circles. But Rutgers University professor Julia Sass Rubin studied it, using historical election results. She found that statewide primary candidates over the last 20 years who had the line in some counties and did not in others performed an average of 12 percent better in counties where they had it. For incumbents, the advantage shot up to 17 percent.

“The data is just overwhelming that being on the line provided a substantial advantage,” Sass Rubin said.

Some party operatives have raised concerns that discarding the line will lead to less vetting by party leaders, resulting in more extreme candidates winning their party’s nominations. Opponents think it will lead to officials becoming more hesitant to go along with party bosses’ wishes when it comes time for them to vote.

“You’re going to start seeing a lot more bravery by legislators and you’re going to see primary challengers that are more successful,” said Sass Rubin, the Rutgers professor. “So you’re going to have more accountability.”

Politico, March 24, 2024

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