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

New Paper on Affordable Rental Housing by NJSOARH

Local Landscapes of Assisted Housing: Reconciling Layered and Imprecise Administrative Data for Research Purposes The New Jersey State of Affordable Housing (NJSOARH) project seeks to understand the state of rental housing affordable to low-income and very low-income...

NJSPL – Extreme Heat, Coastal Flooding, and Health Disparities

Extreme Heat, Coastal Flooding, and Health Disparities: Climate Change Impacts on Older Adults in New Jersey By Josephine O’Grady New Jersey is facing a myriad of climate challenges, including extreme heat, heavy precipitation, coastal flooding, and more natural...

New Paper on Foreclosure Crisis by Prof. Eric Seymour

Prof. Eric Seymour co-authors Judged by Their Deeds: Outcomes for Properties Acquired by Contract Sellers Following the Foreclosure Crisis in Detroit Abstract Prior research has documented the reemergence of predatory land contracts in majority-Black neighborhoods in...

EJB Talks with Professor Michael Smart

Transportation, Urban Planning, and Racial Bias: Insights from Professor Michael Smart In this episode of EJB Talks, Stuart Shapiro interviews Professor Michael Smart, beginning with how he became involved in transportation planning and its impact on poverty and...

NJSPL – New Report: 15-Minute Neighborhoods

Report Release: 15-Minute Neighborhoods: A Pathway to Creating Healthier, More Just, Resilient, & Sustainable Communities in New Jersey By Jon Carnegie, June Greeman, and Jacob Thompson READ FULL REPORT Over the past several years, several policy threads have...

Upcoming Events

Freights and Ports Capstone Presentations 2


All are invited to attend the capstone presentations to be given by graduate students in the Urban Planning: Freights and Ports course.  There will be two sessions: Monday, April 15, […]

Master of Health Administration Town Hall


The Town Hall is an open and informal forum discussion for students to provide feedback, offer suggestions, and hear the most up to date news about the program. Hosted by […]