Who Picks Your Politicians?

March 12, 2024

TOMS RIVER – Voters choose who they want to lead them, but how did the politicians even get on the ballot to begin with? That starts with the leaders of the two main parties.

Ocean County’s political landscape will undoubtedly undergo significant shifts as a result of the recent GOP county convention.

With Democrats proving to be negligible competition, particularly in county-level races, the Republican elite’s choice of candidates has some wondering if a select group of people actually pick the winners even before voters go to the polls.

When looking at your ballot, the “county line” candidates make one vertical line. Often, people will just vote for all candidates on the party line, without knowing much about them.

While not addressing this race in particular,  Dr. Julia Sass Rubin, a Rutgers professor and author of “The Impact of New Jersey’s County Line Primary Ballots on Election Outcomes, Politics, and Policy,” suggested that candidates are keenly aware of the county line’s influence in determining primary election outcomes. Her study revealed that many candidates withdraw from primaries if they fail to secure party endorsements, especially in county-level and state legislative races, where candidates may lack widespread voter recognition. Rubin added that this phenomenon extends even to incumbents.

“Elected officials are aware of the importance of the line for their reelection and the power of county party chairs to award the line,” wrote Rubin. “If an elected official does not do as the county chair wants, they can lose the line and almost surely lose the primary, ending, or severely curtailing their political careers.”

“In such an environment, it is the county party chairs rather than the voters that elected officials must please to be elected and to stay in office,” Rubin continued. “This gives the county party chairs substantial power to shape the state’s politics and public policy.”

The issue of party organizations and their chairs wielding significant power over ballot placement has sparked a pending lawsuit by 3rd District Congressman Andy Kim, a Democrat, as he vies for a United States Senate seat against Tammy Murphy, Governor Phil Murphy’s wife. The lawsuit targets county clerks in all 19 counties that award a line in their primary process, advocating for elections to be conducted using the “office block” style, where all candidates are listed together under the offices they’re seeking.

This brings to mind Rubin’s analysis, which included documenting the influence of party lines in several races, including the 2020 Republican primary race in the third congressional district.

Jersey Shore Online, March 12, 2024

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