In Brief

Lawsuit targeting disputed ballot design as unconstitutional can proceed, judge says

By: - May 31, 2022 9:19 pm

The 2020 primary ballot in Monmouth County shows how Neptune Township committee candidate Kevin McMillan was placed in the sixth column, stranded in what critics of this ballot design have called “ballot Siberia.”

A federal lawsuit targeting the county line — the ballot system used in most New Jersey counties that gives a boost to party-backed candidates facing primary challenges — as unconstitutional may proceed, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The order by Judge Zahid Quraishi was hailed by progressives who have long argued the ballot design in question gives party-backed candidates an unfair advantage and is a reason so-called “off the line” candidates — often challengers to incumbents — rarely succeed.

The plaintiffs in the case are a group of former political candidates and the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, who allege the ballot design system violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the elections clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“At a time when democracy is under attack in so many states across the country, it’s time to reform New Jersey’s unfair and unconstitutional primary ballot system, which only serves well-connected party insiders and corporate special interests,” Sue Altman, the New Jersey Working Families state director, said in a statement. “This decision represents a vital step toward fixing our broken electoral system.”

Quraishi dismissed almost all of the motions to dismiss filed by the defendants, a group of county clerks, and ruled the plaintiffs have standing to sue.

There is still potentially a long slog ahead for the plaintiffs (the initial complaint was filed in July 2020). But progressives appear hopeful Tuesday’s development brings them one step closer to eliminating what they view as an insurmountable barrier to electoral success.

“The outcome of this lawsuit will restore hope for accountability in our electoral process by leveling the playing field and preventing partisan elected officials and county party chairs from putting their thumbs on the scales to influence the outcome of elections,” Altman said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”