New Jersey ballot design for Senate primary challenged by federal judge

In a landmark ruling, a federal judge on Friday ordered New Jersey to redraw its electoral ballot before the June primary, extending long-held electoral power to the state's Democratic and Republican political machines.

Judge Zahid N. of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Qureshi's decision is expected to fundamentally reshape politics in New Jersey.

“The integrity of the democratic process for primary elections is at stake,” Justice Qureshi wrote in a 49-page decision.

Candidates suing to redesignate the ballot have demonstrated that their “constitutional rights have been violated by the current ballot design.”

The unique way New Jersey shapes its primary election ballots gives establishment candidates a significant advantage at the expense of outsiders. In most districts, ballots combine candidates in the same column based on the endorsements of political party leaders, rather than grouping candidates based on the office they are running for.

Implications of Judge Qureshi's decision include a high-profile race to replace Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat accused of taking bribes in exchange for political favors.

Mr. Rep. Andy Kim, the Democrat running for Menendez's seat, sees ballot fairness as a defining theme of the race, and last month he filed suit along with two other candidates.

“This is a victory built on the incredible grassroots work of activists across our state who saw an undemocratic system marginalize voters' voices and worked tirelessly to fix it,” said Mr. Kim said of the verdict.

For months, Governor Philip D. Tammy Murphy, Murphy's wife, was Kim's main rival. Mrs. Murphy's path to victory rested heavily on the support of influential Democratic bosses, who had ties to her husband and had enough clout to ensure her name would appear in the top spot on the state's most populous primary ballot on June 4. Districts.

Mrs. Murphy dropped out of the race on Sunday, but the legal battle over the design of the ballot — a mundane but fundamental element of electoral power in New Jersey — continues to dominate political debate in the state.

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Judge Qureshi's decision is cheered and congratulated Selfies And at least one pop-up Wine Mixing Celebration From New Jersey residents over the years fought to eradicate Ballot design.

Yael Bromberg, one of a group of lawyers who filed the first lawsuit seeking to change the current ballot format in 2020, called Judge Qureshi's decision a “landmark victory for fair elections.”

“Voters will finally have a meaningful choice,” said Antoinette Miles, who leads the state chapter of Working Families, a left-leaning group that collected donations from supporters to help pay for the original legislative action. “Candidates, whatever their background, can finally enter politics on their own terms.

“We will finally create a system where officials are accountable to voters rather than to the whims of party insiders.”

In 19 of the state's 21 counties, local political leaders have for decades grouped their preferred candidates for each office into a main row or column on primary ballots — simply called a “line” in New Jersey. The names of the primary contenders appear on the side or edge of the ballot, a spot candidates call “Vote Siberia.”

Candidates whose names are in district order usually win. It encourages district political leaders to use ballot status to reward or punish candidates, encouraging trust. This gives them excessive control over policy decisions, jobs and government contracts, while reducing the ability of constituencies to sway elections and hold elected officials accountable.

Mr. Kim asked Judge Qureshi to require election officials to list the names of all internal party candidates running in each open state together on a separate section of the ballot, as is done in the other 49 states.

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On Friday, the judge agreed to do just that.

County political parties and elected clerks responsible for designing and printing ballots have enlisted dozens of lawyers — most of them paid with taxpayer dollars — for Mr. To fiercely defend the practice advocated by Kim.

The unusual nature of Judge Qureshi's ruling was evident in the flurry of legal responses and negative press releases sent out within hours of the decision.

The Morris County Republican Committee wrote to Judge Qureshi, explaining that his ruling only applies to the June 4 Democratic primary. A bipartisan group of legislative leaders cautioned that they believe any changes to the ballot should be left up to the state Legislature. Courts.

Then, late Friday, Rajeev T. Pareek, a lawyer representing the county clerks, formally requested that the judge delay implementation of his decision pending an appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

“Implementing an entirely new style of ballot in five business days presents an unnecessary risk to the administration of this year's primary elections,” said Mr. Parik wrote to Judge Qureshi on behalf of the state's 15 district clerks.

However, Mr. Parikh agreed.

Testifying during a day-long hearing in Judge Qureshi's courtroom on March 18, Mr. Kim, 41, argued that unless the ballot was redrawn before the primary, it would cause irreparable harm.

Hours before the hearing, the state's attorney general, a Democrat and longtime ally of the governor, Matthew J. Platkin wrote to Judge Qureshi that he agreed the ballot design was unconstitutional.

Ms Murphy dropped out of the race a week later.

Advocates for district political leaders, hoping to preserve their ballot-design advantage, said Mr. The urgency of Kim's request, leaving the race for Ms. argued that Murphy's decision had disappeared.

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Justice Qureshi called this argument “outstanding”.

The decision is expected to cause seismic changes in New Jersey, where political bosses have often appeared out of touch with voters.

This week, Republican Mayor Sal Bonaccorso of Clark, NJ, who filed for 2020 Using racial slurs Then Mr. Blatkin was charged with unrelated crimes He was given a key ballot post by the party He is running for re-election.

Studies by professors at Rutgers and Princeton universities show that the county line gives candidates an often insurmountable advantage.

Edward J. at Rutgers. An analysis by Julia Chaz Rubin, associate dean of the Blaustein School of Planning and Policy, found that being on county lines gave congressional candidates an advantage. 38 percentage points.

Mr. Kim's case also includes a real-time experiment showing the effect of ballot design by Josh Pasek, a University of Michigan professor who has written books about voter behavior. Dr. Passek distributed sample ballots to more than 600 New Jersey Democratic voters, but Mr. Kims, Mrs. Murphy and other candidates' names changed where they appeared.

He concluded that the district tax “strongly pushed” voters toward particular candidates.

The Democratic mayors of Newark and Jersey City, the state's two largest cities, both called for an end to the county-line ballot format. Each is campaigning for the Democratic nomination for governor next year and praised the judge's decision.

“'The Line' has always been anti-democratic,” said Newark Mayor Ross J. Baraka said. “As a party we always knew it was wrong, yet we lived with it for decades.”

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop called the decision a “victory for the people.”

“New Jersey took a big step today toward a fairer, more representative election system and away from the political cronyism and corruption that has long plagued our state,” Mr. Fulop said.

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