Edison Episode Provides Insight into the County Line

Our Revolution Team in Edison.

In a move that has made many Edison voters question how much of a democracy we have in New Jersey, Middlesex County Democratic Organization (MCDO) chair Kevin McCabe decided to not award the county line on the Edison primary ballot, and along with it the MCDO slogan, to Edison Democratic Organization endorsed mayoral candidate Mahesh Bhagia.

The county line does not exist in any other state’s ballot except New Jersey, and for good reason. In this year’s primary election, many Democratic voters will simply vote down the line when they see Phil Murphy at the head of it. A study of the 2020 primary found that being on the line was worth an average of 35 percentage points — a nearly insurmountable edge. This means that primary elections (and, in most cases, general elections) are determined by the decision of who gets the line. So much so that other candidates often drop out of the race if not awarded this prime ballot position.

The county line is typically given to the candidates that are endorsed by the members of the county committee.  In Middlesex county, each major party has roughly 1,200 county committee representatives elected by each party’s voters respectively. Unfortunately, most of the electorate are not aware of the committees’ existence.

Oftentimes committee members are strongly advised by party leaders to vote for certain candidates. Candidates will also call, send letters and personally visit county committee members. Since the committee members typically vote according to the urging of party leaders, there is usually no conflict between the committees and the chairperson.

This was not the case in Edison this year. Many members of the Edison Municipal Democratic Committee were left feeling upset and disenfranchised after their endorsed candidates for mayor and council did not receive the coveted county line on the Democratic primary ballot. Instead, chairman McCabe awarded the county line to Bhagia’s opposing team led by Sam Joshi after Bhagia’s team, fearing being removed from the county line, created a line of their own. If candidates do not have their own line, they run the risk of being placed in the furthest corner of the ballot, an area sometimes called ballot Siberia.

Beyond this current episode of political infighting, voters need to consider whether they want to continue in a system where one individual — the county party chair — can use the power of the county line to punish upstart committees, benefit loyal allies and ultimately decide who will likely serve as mayor, as council members, in the legislature, as a county commissioner and even in Congress. It is time for New Jersey to reform our primary ballots to look like those in every other state so that the voters and not county party chairs can decide who should be elected. Isn’t that what democracy is all about?

To learn about the the county line, visit https://betterballotsnj.org/

Join a presentation to discuss the ballot and the county line on Tuesday April 27th 8:00pm with Rutgers associate professor Julia Sass Rubin http://tinyurl.com/ORMCountyLine

John Hsu

Chair, Progressive Caucus Edison Democratic Organization

Chair, Our Revolution Middlesex County

Bernie Sanders 2020 Delegate

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  • Kathleen Demarest

    That was interesting and informative.

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