Andy Kim files lawsuit challenging NJ’s ballot design

Andy Kim files lawsuit challenging NJ’s ballot design

Democratic Senate candidate Andy Kim filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to abolish New Jersey’s unique and controversial “county line” balloting system, calling it “fundamentally unjust and undemocratic.”

“The issue presented to the Court today is quite simple: the line must be abolished because it is unconstitutional,” reads the lawsuit filed by Kim, a three-term member of Congress from the 3rd District, as well as two underdog Democratic congressional candidates in South Jersey: Sarah Schoengood and Carolyn Rush.

Kim is running mainly against New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy, whose campaign is banking on her expected advantageous ballot placement in New Jersey’s most heavily Democratic counties to gain enough support to become the party’s nominee.

The lawsuit, which was first reported by The New York Times, targets county clerks in all 19 counties that award a line in their primary process, calling instead for a judge to order the elections be conducted using the “office block” style, in which all candidates are listed together under the offices they’re seeking. It comes three years after a group of progressives filed their own still-pending lawsuit against the nominating system using the same attorneys: Brett Pugach and Yael Bromberg.

“The current primary election ballot design scheme represents an unconstitutional governmental thumb on the scale of New Jersey’s primary elections,” the complaint reads.

The 79-page complaint alleges the balloting system violates the First and 14th Amendments, as well as the Constitution’s elections clause.

Background: New Jersey allows county organizations who endorse candidates to place them in the same row or column with all the other county-backed candidates, from president to town council.

Candidates not backed by the party, unless they field their own slate of candidates to compete with the county line, are sometimes relegated to obscure parts of the ballot that some disparagingly refer to as “ballot Siberia.”

A Rutgers study that Kim’s complaint cites, along with several experts, found that the county line awards a significant advantage to candidates who gain it.

Kim has beaten Murphy to get the county line in the first three county conventions conducted by secret ballot so far, but Murphy has the support of party chairs in the state’s most Democratic vote-rich counties, some of whom have major influence in awarding their party lines.

Kim, who has not faced a seriously contested primary, did not eschew the county line in any of his three previous congressional elections.

In a meeting with reporters on Monday, Kim said he hadn’t raised the line as an issue in past years because he didn’t have a primary challenge in his first two runs and in his third election he felt comfortable against his opponent. “I never really understood or experienced it full force” until running for the Senate, he said.

“This is not power people are just going to give up voluntarily. This is something that is so entrenched in our politics in New Jersey,” Kim said. “They’re not going to change this unless the courts tell them to.”

What’s next: If the slow movement of the three-year-old lawsuit targeting the line is any indication, it’s hard to see how this lawsuit could be disposed of before the June 4 primary. County clerks beginning mailing ballots to voters on April 20.

Read a copy of the complaint here.

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