Two Princeton Residents Help Bring Down New Jersey’s Party Bosses

March 30, 2024

Princeton, NJ – Two Princeton residents and academicians – Julia Sass Rubin of Rutgers and Princeton University’s Sam Wang – were among the experts quoted in the landmark decision regarding the “county line” ballot design handed down March 29 by U.S. District Court Judge Zahid Quraishi.

Under the current primary voting system in New Jersey, county leaders of both major political parties endorse candidates and then place them on the primary ballot in the left-most column on the ballot. The presidential candidate appears at the top of the ballot, followed by gubernatorial, senate, congressional, and county and local candidates. Candidates for those offices not receiving the official party endorsement are placed one or two or three columns to the right. Some call it “ballot Siberia.”

Julia Sass Rubin, associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, has been a long-time critic of the “county line” arrangement. Writing for New Jersey Policy Perspective in 2020, Rubin said that “New Jersey primary ballots are unlike those of any other state.” As she wrote at the time:

“Other states organize their primary ballots around the electoral position being sought, such as Senator or Governor, with candidates listed beneath or immediately to the right of each electoral position. This makes it easy for voters to determine which candidates are running for each office. In contrast, nineteen of New Jersey’s twenty-one counties organize their primary ballots around a group of candidates endorsed by either the Democratic or Republican Party. These groups of county party endorsed candidates are referred to as the “county line” or the “party line,” because they are presented on the ballot as a vertical or horizontal line of names, with a candidate included for every office. The county line generally receives prime location in one of the first columns or rows on the ballot. Candidates not on the county line are placed in other columns or rows, sometimes far away from the county line candidates.

“. . . This ballot design encourages voters to pick the candidates on the county line because they are easy to find and visually distinct. The county line is further advantaged by the placement of better-known candidates, such as those running for President, U.S. Senator, or Governor, at the top of the line and the inclusion of candidates for most or all of the offices on the ballot.”

In his March 29 opinion, Judge Quraishi said that he assigned Rubin’s testimony “substantial weight,” based on her “demeanor, manner in which she testified, and substance of her testimony which was corroborated by other evidence presented.”

The judge also cited the opinion of another Princeton resident, Sam Wang, professor of Molecular Biology and principal in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, who also concluded that the ballot design could influence voters. As the judge interpreted Wang’s testimony, the ballot design could be influential “based on the way human cognition works when faced with voting choices on a ballot and a statistical treatment of voting data.”

Tap Into Princeton, March 30, 2024

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