February 26, 2024

Andy Kim Leads Effort to Provide a Fair Ballot Through Injunctive Relief

MOORESTOWN N.J. - Today, Congressman Andy Kim and Congressional candidates Carolyn Rush (NJ-02) and Sarah Schoengood (NJ-03) filed for emergency injunctive relief in the U.S. District Court in the District of New Jersey to prohibit the use of county-line ballots statewide and give all voters a fair and legitimate choice in the 2024 primary election through office-block ballots. This action comes after Kim previously called for the abolishment of the “county-line” prior to announcing his run for U.S. Senate, signed the Fair Ballot Alliance pledge, and wrote to county clerks and Democratic Party chairs on February 8th to request a fair, office-block ballot.

In the filing, which can be found by clicking here, the Plaintiffs ask the Court to, “hold that New Jersey’s outlier party column style ballots, and its unique attendant features, are unconstitutional and cannot be used in the upcoming Primary Election and future ones, and to order the use a ballot that meets constitutional requirements, such as an office-block style ballot in use in 49 states in the nation and already in use in two counties in New Jersey.”

“New Jersey voters don’t want to be told who to vote for,” said Congressman Andy Kim. “Jersey voters are tired of the broken politics that lets party leaders give their hand-picked candidates preferential placement on the ballot. This unfair process needs to end now. The people deserve a ballot like what every other state uses that is fair, democratic, and allows their voices to be the ones that determine who represents them.”

“When NJ's County Committees get together ahead of primaries to decide who they want to win, then arrange their preferred candidates on the "county line", they create an unfair advantage for their preferred candidates”, said Carolyn Rush. “When voters look at the ballot, they often just vote for everyone whose name is on the county line. Sadly, the County Committee does not always pick the most qualified candidates. They sometimes pick the candidates with the most money or the most influential family and friends. Good candidates, and their supporters, are frequently overlooked due to the constitutional violation known as the "county line"! It's long past time to abolish the County Line in NJ.”

“The New Jersey county line system is inherently unjust and biased,” said Sarah Schoengood. “It is a tiered system that is unfairly advantageous to the candidate preferred by the party bosses. New Jersey is the only state in the union that follows this undemocratic primary process. The decision of who wins a primary should be made by the voters at the ballot box, not party chairs and backroom deals.”

“The Constitution may not demand a perfect election, but it demands a fair one. New Jersey laws on primary elections are not remotely fair and should be unacceptable to anyone who wants those taxpayer-funded elections to be free of bias or discrimination,” said Brett M. Pugach, Esq., an attorney with Weissman & Mintz LLC who is part of the legal team bringing this case.

“Only a science denier could reject the overwhelming quantitative and qualitative evidence that the antidemocratic effects of the county line are real, that it invites voter confusion and unduly influence voters, and leaves our democratic system susceptible to justifiably being called into question as to the legitimacy and result of the election, thereby destroying voter confidence in government, their elected representatives, and this and future elections,” added Yael Bromberg, Esq. of Bromberg Law LLC.

Another attorney, Flavio L. Komuves, Esq. of Weissman & Mintz LLC emphasized: “We are helping our clients speak the truth about what is plain to see, and what everyone knows: the county line is deeply unjust. Candidates know this. Voters know this. Officeholders and party elites know this. And our rigorous expert proofs establish it. Voters perceive the system as unfair, which makes sense, as their conclusions are supported by the data. And we can do something about it ahead of the 2024 primary.”

Key points made in the injunction for why the current “county line” system represents an immediate and urgent harm to the democratic process in New Jersey include:

New Jersey’s “county-line system” directly impacts New Jersey voters

  • “In addition to injuring the electoral chances of unbracketed and off-line candidates, New Jersey’s ballot design system also injures the voters who support such candidates, burdening their voting rights and their associational rights, making it more difficult to elect the candidates they prefer. It also burdens voters at large through the creation of a confusing, manipulated ballot design that taints the outcome of the elections, as it puts the State’s thumb on the scale in favor of county line candidates and certain bracketed candidates who receive a state-conferred ballot advantage.”

  • The “county-line” system presents an unfair advantage to chosen candidates

  • New Jersey is an outlier that “fails to treat similarly situated candidates - candidates pursuing the same office in the same political party - the same.”
  • “Off-line” and unbracketed candidates are harder to find on the ballot, harder to know who they are running against and/or for what office, and appear less legitimate.
  • Ballot position, design and display are extremely important and are shown to impact the outcome of elections in academic studies.
  • “New Jersey’s bracketing and ballot placement system directly and substantially injure Plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.”
  • “No state interest in New Jersey’s bracketing and ballot placement system can justify the burdens it places on Plaintiff’s rights.”
  • New Jersey’s system of primary election ballot design results from combination of state laws and interpreting case law, as well as practices that confer specific advantages on candidates who have received an endorsement from county party leadership including:
  • association with a full or almost-full slate who are disproportionately incumbents that give visual cue advantages and nudges voters toward selecting these “county line” candidates; and
  • Preferential ballot draw including an opportunity to obtain the first ballot position

  • There is an urgent need for action now

  • As county endorsements are underway, “These endorsements are exactly that – a decision to grant a slogan or endorsement on the ballot. It is unconstitutional for New Jersey’s laws to be applied in such a manner that unconstitutionally entangles this party endorsement with a state-sponsored ballot and electoral advantage and government thumb on the scale that systematically advantages some and disadvantages others, sometimes even with potentially outcome-determinative results.”
  • Partisan primary elections occur annually in New Jersey and will continue alongside the unconstitutional ballot design laws and practices outlined.

  • A fairer system still means a strong Democratic Party
  • “Plaintiffs do not seek to disrupt the conduct of parties in their right to endorse the standard-bearer of their choice, or their right to contribute and pool resources to support that candidate in the primary or general election.”