Too late to change ballots NJ’s political bosses use to sway elections? Judge pushes back.

March 19, 2024

A federal judge questioned the claim that New Jersey’s county clerks don’t have time to reprint ballots before this year’s June primary elections — as he considers a case that could rob the state’s political machines of a tool that researchers say can decide an election before a single voter goes to the ballot box.

But Judge Zahid N. Quraishi gave no timetable to rule on arguments he heard Monday from Rep. Andy Kim — who says the so-called “county line” ballot system used by 19 of New Jersey’s 21 counties violates his right to compete in a fair election. Kim testified that he is treated as an “underdog” compared to First Lady Tammy Murphy in the race for U.S. Senate, even as he enjoys a sizable lead in polls. Kim is seeking an injunction to get the unusual ballot system changed before the election is held.

The “county line” has become the central issue in the Democratic primary for Senate. The little-understood quirk of New Jersey politics helps Democratic and Republican political organizations tip primary elections by awarding their endorsed candidates preferential placement on ballots — sometimes only on the say-so of those party organizations’ leaders. Research by academics from Princeton, Rutgers and Oxford says the line protects entrenched interests, giving endorsed candidates an advantage that outsiders rarely overcome.

If the court were to find the county line unconstitutional, it would undo a system that has given the political machines tremendous power to influence which candidates ultimately win elected office as well — especially in areas that favor one party heavily, so there’s little competition after primaries. The same system once helped insulate incumbent Sen. Robert Menendez from political fallout after a 2015 corruption indictment, and turned against him amid another one in 2023. New Jersey hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate in a half-century.

To make their case that the county line gives an unfair advantage, Kim’s attorney’s entered a report by Rutgers Professor Julia Sass Rubin, who has published several studies on the county line, into the court record. Her research has found that congressional candidates who ran on the county line won on average by 35 points across dozens of races.

The defense cross-examined Sass Rubin, asking her whether she could specify whether the races she analyzed could have been affected by name recognition of the candidate, or the amount of money spent on the race.

“Potentially,” Sass Rubin said. “But you’re seeing the same pattern being on the county line and having the same results across 45 races.”

Gothamist, March 19, 2024

Recent Posts

Do you have one of the most common jobs in New Jersey?

Nearly 4.6 million people work in New Jersey in thousands of different types of jobs. But nearly 840,000 positions make up the top 10 most common roles, according to data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Laborers and freight stock and material movers — those...

NJSPL – The New Jersey Induced Travel Calculator

By Robert B. Noland Induced travel occurs when new roads or lanes are built with the goal of reducing traffic congestion. What this means in practice is that new travel fills the new roads or lanes such that the goal of congestion reduction is not met. While many...

Kelly O’Brien (MCRP ’09) Named Fairfax City Hometown Hero

On July 15th, Kelly O'Brien (MCRP '09)  was recognized as a Hometown Hero during Fox 5 DC's Zip Trip visit to Fairfax City. "Although I don't think of myself as a hero, I am grateful for the chance to express my dedication to serving my community and shed light on the...

Winecoff: Working Paper on Health Insurance Enrollment

Spillovers in Public Benefit Enrollment: How does Expanding Public Health Insurance for Working-Age Adults affect Future Health Insurance Choices? Abstract Enrollment in one public benefit program often affects enrollment in others. We study life-course spillovers by...

$21.1 million Awarded for the Safe Routes to School Program

The Murphy Administration announced $21.1 million for 23 grants under the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program on July 10, 2024. The New Jersey Safe Routes to School Program, supported by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, is a statewide initiative with a...

Upcoming Events

Event Series CAREERS

Virtual Career Drop-ins

Virtual

Stop by virtually on Mondays (except for holidays) beginning September 9th through December 16th between 11 am and 1 pm to ask a quick (15 min) career-related question of Bloustein […]