State of Flux: NJ Wrestles with Quraishi’s Ballot Decision

A federal judge’s decision to overhaul the ballot design in New Jesey’s Democratic Primary election this year summoned those who lost the initial case to seek relief in the form of a stay. Clerks and others outraged by the logistical burden of the decision filed last night with the Third Circuit of Appeals. They hope to put the brakes on U.S. District Judge Zahid Quraishi’s emergency injunctive relief granted last week to U.S. Rep. Andy Kim and his allies.

Quraishi’s decision effectively ended the “County Line” in the Democratic Primary where Kim seeks his

Quraishi

party’s nomination for the United States Senate. The decision does not apply to this year’s Republican primary, with legislative action pending and expected to deliver uniform codifying changes for both parties, effective in time for the 2025 primary season.

Immediately, the clerks want the three-judge panel to grant a stay, thereby enabling their offices to skirt the chaos they say ensued as a result of Quraishi’s ruling.

We’ll know by tomorrow night how the panel reacts to the clerks’ counterattack.

Sources close to the case cite several arguments for reversing Quraishi’s decision, noting what they describe as his incorrect decision that the election is 100 days away. It is, in fact, less than three weeks away, if one considers early voting procedures and the specificities of a federal election year. They point out too that different counties use different voting machines, including ES&S and Dominion models. Both delicate systems, the former contain software especially amenable to the traditional line bracketing in New Jersey primaries and are therefore arguably less adaptable to changes on a short runway.

Sources close to the legal apparatus on the appeals end cite as arguably their strongest argument for a stay the so-called Purcell principle, whereby lower courts “should not intervene and change election rules close to an election. If the lower court does intervene, the Supreme Court should correct the lower court’s error, even though the Supreme Court’s action is also close to the election.”

Some clerks are already ripping their hair out this week, as they try to move forward with preparations for block – not line – ballots in the Dem Primary and maintain the status quo for the moment in the GOP Primary, as they simultaneously eyeball the appeals process.

Durkin (center)

It’s delicate, to say the least, and some clerks appealing the judge’s decision at the same time acknowledge the new terrain – and even go so far as to support the change. “I am in favor of block ballot voting,” tweeted Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin. “I am confident Essex County will conduct a fair and free election. Our ballots will be clear and concise to voters. The voting systems we have in Essex County are the best in New Jersey.”

“I personally don’t like the line,” Somerset County Clerk

Somerset Clerk Steve Peter.
Somerset Clerk Steve Peter.

Steve Peter said. “but I have to appeal a decision that says it’s unconstitutional for Democrats, but constitutional for Republicans.”

Others say the short time frame simply creates too many snafus.

It’s not about the line.

It’s about mechanics.

“None of this is about keeping the line or not keeping the line,” said Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon, a party to the appeal and a key witness for the defendants in the initial case. “The issues I have are logistical and pertain to the technology we have today. The clerks did not purchase the equipment. The superintendents and boards of elections purchased the technology in use. I’m working to try to resolve this with all the entities involved. In Monmouth County, we’re working as quickly as possible with ES&S and our county election counterparts to come up with a solution.”

Hanlon

 

County clerks found themselves rapidly walking tightropes as they geared up with the new, ununiform rules, many of them too apoplectic to comment. In addition, the state of flux made them hesitant to comment lest something they say no become irrelevant in an hour or two.

Some Democratic Party insiders fumed about Quraishi’s decision giving Republicans an unfair advantage, as the GOP ballots – at least this year and under his initial ruling – will look unchanged.

Others in the establishment continued to savage Kim. “Kim, Kim, Kim,” one organization leader railed, when gently asked if he can feel a sense of pride in the congressman’s U.S. Senate candidacy. The question went unanswered.  They bashed the judge, citing political naivete. “Look, I get it, he’s not living in the real world up there, so he doesn’t see the whole picture,” a boss told InsiderNJ. Another shrugged off the sweat of two weeks’ worth of toil in a courtroom (Quraishi’s) stacked against him from the start, or so said the source, a party to the appeal.

“When you look at the upheaval, the rules changed over a couple of people – it’s really just ridiculous,” an insider seethed.

Some political bosses took the news in stride. Although part of the appeal process, several machine leaders view themselves and their operations as strong enough to withstand the ballot changes, like armored tanks barreling through thrown rocks. “Middlesex, for example, built an organization where they don’t have to worry about people that much, it’s that good,” a source said. “But there are others – and they’ll remain nameless, who didn’t stay sharp, let the machines rust, and allowed turnout to plummet. They’re going to pay a price.”

Lawmakers, for their part, looked ahead to getting new balloting procedures hammered together for the summer, uniformly shifting the primary ballots from line to block. But, of course, those rules would apply to 2025 not 2024. There was almost a ho hum attitude on the legislative front. “Ballot designs aren’t rocket designs, let’s face it,” an elected official said.

The New Jersey Statehouse and Capitol Building In Trenton
The New Jersey Statehouse and Capitol Building in Trenton.

 

Those conversations have no bearing on the immediate mental health of the clerks.

“I’m about to have a heart attack over here,” said one of them, on condition of anonymity. “Nobody understands what the clerks are going through right now.”

Amid the tumult, Middlesex Democrats blandly issued a press release, as if nothing were amiss, almost tauntingly oblivious to all the upheaval.

It read as follows:

The ballot drawing for the positioning of candidates for the 2024 Primary Election will take place on Thursday, April 4.

The draw will commence at 3:00 pm and will be conducted in person at the James Vokral Conference Room, situated at 26 Kennedy Blvd, Suite B, East Brunswick, NJ 08816. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Parking facilities are available on-site on both sides of the building. Additionally, attendees may utilize parking spaces at 35 Kennedy Blvd, East Brunswick. Please note that due to spatial constraints, the room’s capacity is limited to 30 individuals. To secure your spot, kindly register using this form.

An on-site overflow area will be available to accommodate additional attendees.

More later.

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5 responses to “State of Flux: NJ Wrestles with Quraishi’s Ballot Decision”

  1. You do know that the idea that these machines can’t handle block ballots is absurd, right?

    Every other state uses block ballots. They were built for block ballots.

    These machines were not designed for county line ballots.

  2. The judge is not living in the real world up there? How about the real world where voters like to understand their ballots and want to vote by office block like every other state?
    That’s some insulting nonsense.
    Plus, what Lizzie said.

  3. Max!
    First, of course they can manage the Judge’s order. One of their key witnesses ADMITTED it on the witness stand! (The glamour shot of the Monmouth Clerk should have shown her clutching those pearls.)
    A little inconvenience to the election officers is a small price to pay to end an unconstitutional and unconscionable practice.

  4. Testimony given showed all of these counties have used office block ballots and that the ballot can be changed easily. It is no surprise that George Norcross and the rest of the machine bosses are whining and not going quietly . Moreover the clerks in many counties are obviously closely tied to the bosses who control county jobs so the claims by the clerks appealing the decision should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

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