The End of the Line

Massively shifting a paradigm, upending a ballot system unique to New Jersey, a federal judge today ruled against the county organizational line and in favor of U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-3), a U.S. Senate candidate running in the Democratic Primary.

The repercussions of the ruling go far beyond Kim.

In response to a lawsuit filed by the congressman challenging the constitutionality of NJ’s primary bracketing system, U.S. District Judge Zahid Quraishi granted Kim emergency injunctive relief, effectively ending the “County Line” in the Garden State.

READ THE RULING HERE

What does it mean?

A whole new world.

It means that candidates running in the primary – effective this June – will receive ballot placement according to block voting that situates them by random drawing next to the office they seek, and not under the organization whose slogan they employ, whereby organization-stacked candidates gain an animal warmth, “line” advantage.

It’s huge, consequential political news.

“The Court wishes to make clear that it recognizes the magnitude of its decision,” Quraishi wrote. “The integrity of the democratic process for a primary election is at stake and the remedy Plaintiffs are seeking is extraordinary.

“Mandatory injunctive relief is reserved only for the most unusual cases,” he added. “Plaintiffs’ burden on this Motion is therefore particularly heavy. Nevertheless, the Court finds, based on this record, that Plaintiffs have met their burden and that this is the rare instance when mandatory relief is warranted.”

Relief in the form of a seismic event, or in the words of activist Jeff Tittel, “This is a political earthquake that can change NJ political landscape forever. This is big victory for Democracy and the People. To get injunction it means you have a good chance of winning and that there will be irreparable harm. This decision will move NJ forward in reforming our corrupt political system. This has been a long battle between the bosses and good government. Today the good guys won.”

People – and their own names, money, resources, and organization – will have more control over their primary candidacies in a block voting format. The machines will still wield influence but will have to work for it more without the clearcut leg up the line afforded to party – not people – power. It all depends on people’s sustained level of engagement. Organizations could, in fact, wake up and be as strong as ever now that the ballot won’t do the work for them. Momentarily jolted by the decision, “regular folk” could go back to sleep on politics.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone saw only good in the ruling, which will align New Jersey’s balloting with the 49 other states.

Scutari
Senate President Scutari

“With ballots required to be printed in one week and voting starting in 20 days, many County Clerks have significant concerns about the feasibility of compliance with the Court’s order. Counsel are evaluating their options to appeal,” said Jack Carbone, Esq. on behalf of defense counsel.

”Money will be more important than ever before. People with money will have more of a chance to win without getting the endorsement of the party members who have been around for a long time and they have endorsed good candidates on both sides of the aisle,” state Senate President Nick Scutari (D-22) told NJ.com. ”This will undoubtedly change things — if it stands.”

In addition, in the days leading up to the judge’s decision, a member of the establishment in New Jersey shook his head, only partly in bemusement, as he considered the breakdown of organizational strength opening a pandora’s box. New Jersey has its share of problems, but “just wait till we abolish the lines and organizations can no longer regulate who runs for office. We’ll look like some of these other states whose delegations are packed with crazies.

“As I see it, the corrupt bosses in New Jersey are hardly perfect, and can even be horrific,” the source added, “but it comes down to those bosses versus the extremism in both parties.” And extremism is killing the country, he noted, pointing to the prescience of The Federalist Papers, which cautioned against factionalism, and insisted on structures protecting people from what Tocqueville called “the tyranny of the majority.” From the late Prof. Alan Rosenthal to former ELEC Chief Jeff Brindle, many experts point to the very foundations of representative democracy to make a case for reinforcing – not deteriorating – party organizations.

But that was a minor matter for the moment, as those who see the deleterious effects of too much power concentrated in party machines celebrated the judge’s injunction, starting with Congressman Kim himself:

“Today’s decision is a victory for a fairer, more democratic politics in New Jersey. It’s a victory built from the incredible grassroots work of activists across our state who saw an undemocratic system marginalizing the voices of voters, and worked tirelessly to fix it,” said Kim. “While fixing this unfair ballot system is a massive step forward towards perfecting our democracy, there is still work to be done. Both in New Jersey and nationwide, we need to regain the trust of the voters we serve. I will continue to work tirelessly to restore and protect voting rights, address the scourge of big money in our politics, and make our government more accessible and accountable to everyday New Jerseyans.”

After beating his rival, First Lady Tammy Murphy, in three consecutive secret ballot conventions, Kim

Tammy Murphy in Monmouth, headed for a fall.

filed his suit prior to the critical Bergen County Democratic Committee convention, where the first lady banked on the front office’s relationship with the chairman to acquire the coveted county line.

Murphy beat Kim at that convention, as the pair would go on to joust through the pre-primary season, with Kim’s lawsuit hanging over the drama.

The Murphys trusted in “the line” in big, party machine counties offsetting Kim’s momentum, or that bracketing system that gives party organization a big advantage in primary elections in terms of their easy-to-find-and-protected placement on the ballot.

On the heels of Bob Menendez, who prior to his own lurid slide-down had incidentally secured the congressional seat he used to sit in for his son, Murphy wanted the same privilege for his own family member. Menendez got that congressional seat for his son, now Gov. Phil Murphy would get the senate seat for his wife. And he could get it done because he’s constitutionally the most powerful governor in the country, and the party lines would hold up to any public pushback in a Democratic Primary, a presidential year, no less, no problem.

It was all too cozy for many rank-and-file Dems, and for Kim, and, as it turned out, for Judge Quraishi.

Those long benefiting from the party line, or whose place in politics routinely depends on reinforcing the powers of the line, reacted carefully to the news.

Serrano Glassner

“Judge Quraishi should be praised for this very important decision that returns power to the people where it belongs and puts the party bosses – including the Democrats who have fostered an environment of corruption and cronyism for decades – in check,” said Christine Serrano Glassner, Republican candidate for the United States Senate. “This decision levels the playing field for a pro-Trump, grassroots-supported candidates such as me over a Democrat-loving elite, such as my opponent, Curtis ‘Bacaw’ Bashaw, and makes me the clear frontrunner in the race.”

Amid intensified backroom establishment hustling to appeal, Leroy J. Jones Jr., chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, said in response to the bombshell ruling:

“While the legal process likely will continue in this case and others, I am looking forward to moving

Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones

past this important process-oriented discussion about ballot design and refocusing our work to make sure we beat Donald Trump in November. I have always been a strong believer that when we put forward good candidates who best represent our Democratic values, and when those candidates put in the work, we win. Now more than ever, it is critically important for us to unite as a party and highlight the tremendous differences between our Democratic Party and Donald Trump’s MAGA Republican Party. We will educate people about block voting for the June Primary and make sure it is commonplace for voters by Election Day in November. And as always, we will do what we need to do to win, no matter the design of the ballot. Too much is at stake for our communities, our state, and our nation, if we lose.”

Menendez Jr. and Bhalla

Those who stand to gain from the line’s demise naturally celebrated – people like Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, running for Congress in CD-8 off the line.

Said a rejuvenated Bhalla:

“Due to the tireless advocacy of so many, the county line is finally gone. It’s why I submitted an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit, said Ravi Bhalla. Now, New Jersey will get what 49 other states have: free and fair elections. It’s a great day for democracy.”

Bhalla is challenging U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez Jr for the 8th district Congressional seat in the June 4th Democratic Primary.

ACLU of New Jersey Staff Attorney Liza Weisberg said:

“Thanks to today’s ruling, when New Jersey voters go to the polls this primary season, they will be casting ballots that fairly reflect their political preferences – not the preferences of party insiders. As the ACLU of New Jersey highlighted in its amicus brief, the state has an obligation to serve as a neutral referee in administering elections, but it defies this obligation when it manipulates election outcomes by giving preferential ballot positions to candidates endorsed by county political parties. Through this ‘county line’ design, county clerks engage in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination and undermine voters’ power at the polls.

“The preliminary injunction issued in this case is a temporary form of relief, and litigation will continue in the district court. The preliminary injunction may also face an appeal to the Third Circuit. Today’s decision is a first – but momentous – step toward permanently overturning New Jersey’s unconstitutional primary ballot design laws and practices.”

Other politicos quickly responded to the judge’s decision.

Democratic candidate for Governor Steven Fulop released the following statement:

“Thanks to the hard work of grassroots advocates who pushed this issue forward over the last several years and devoted themselves to the hard, often thankless work of improving our democracy, New Jersey has taken a major step forward today to a fairer, more representative electoral system and away from the political bossism and corruption that has plagued our state for too long. This is a victory for the people, and proof that nothing can stop determined residents fighting for what’s right. I’m looking forward to continuing our campaign for Governor knowing that the decision on who our party nominates will be made by the Democratic voters of New Jersey, not by party bosses in a back room choosing candidates for us.”

In response to U.S. Judge Quraishi’s granting of a preliminary injunction ending New Jersey’s county ballot line system, Jersey City Councilmember James Solomon released the following statement:

“It’s hard to overstate how monumental the end of the county line is for NJ politics. For as long as I’ve lived in New Jersey, let alone served as an elected official in this state, I’ve seen good-government activists rail against the barricades to democracy that the corrupt county line presented. I was proud to join this fight when it was political suicide – starting when I first ran for City Council. I was proud to support Andy Kim for Senate early because I believed that his campaign could represent the tide turning towards the people, away from the party bosses. And now, that belief has come to fruition. Thank you to all who fought for this moment. While an appeal will likely come, the judge’s ruling should stand – and the corrupt New Jersey machine has been dealt a fatal blow. With the end of the county line, voters across the state can finally elect candidates that reflect their core values — and that is a victory for everyone, regardless of party affiliation.”

Carol Murphy

 

Running in the CD-3 Primary to succeed Kim in Congress, Democratic Assemblywoman Carol Murphy – who came out on the short end of a fight for her home county’s organizational support last month – said:

“Since announcing my candidacy for Congress, I’ve stood with Andy Kim in advocating for an open primary to county party chairs. Today’s federal ruling is a victory for democracy — voters, not party insiders, will decide who wins the Democratic nomination. This is also a victory for women because this archaic system has played a crushing role in suppressing women’s voices. As a result of the line, only seven women have ever represented New Jersey in Congress — and zero from South Jersey.

“I’ve felt the pressure of a system that too often tells women they need not apply. Shortly after announcing my candidacy, some party elite members suggested I should wait my turn and even consider how I would be punished if I refused to back down. Today’s ruling allows for an equitable and fair chance, as the people’s choice will rule the day.

“With tremendous enthusiasm, I will forge ahead with my grassroots campaign to win the hearts and minds of voters across New Jersey’s Third Congressional District during the next ten weeks leading up to the June 4th Democratic Primary. I embrace our new reality, where the trust of deciding elections in New Jersey will reside with the people.”

Not to be outdone, her CD-3 rival to succeed Kim, who outdueled her for the line in Burlington, Assemblyman Herb Conaway (pictured, below), walked a tightrope in his statement.

“Today’s decision by Judge Quraishi may harken a new era in New Jersey primary elections,” he said. “I along with all freedom-loving Americans, believe that voters must choose their elected representatives. I am extremely proud of the overwhelming grassroots support I have earned from Democratic leaders in Monmouth, Mercer, and Burlington counties. I look forward to earning the votes of thousands more voters in the June primary because New Jersey’s third congressional district needs a champion who will fight to protect our access to healthcare, access to safe and legal abortions and make sure New Jersey is a safe and healthy place to raise a family.”

A mostly grimly silent establishment appeared to choke down the judge’s ruling without much cause for public

Speziale

comment, unlike Jerry Speziale, running in the Democratic Primary for sheriff off the line.

Speziale all but did an endzone dance.

“Judge Quraishi’s decision will ensure that the Primary for Passaic County Sheriff and County Commissioner is run in a fair and even-handed manner, without the influence of the county political bosses who have been allowed to put their thumb on the scale for too long,” said the former sheriff trying to get back into office. “This is an exciting day for New Jersey and our campaign will now work even harder to make sure that the people of Passaic County have the experienced leadership they need in these critical positions. I can’t wait to spend the next ten weeks knocking doors, meeting voters and sharing our team’s vision for a better Passaic County.”

Whether it benefited or crucified, one thing emerged at week’s end, in charting a new course with its primary ballots, New Jersey had just come to the end of the line. In the words of one lifelong New Jerseyan with a passion for politics, “I would have never believed it. I just might run now!”

Brown

Said another, “It shows the ‘House of Cards’ nature of politics today, at all levels. It’s up for grabs. …And part of that is the pols don’t work it like they did three generations ago – with few exceptions.”

Monmouth County Democratic Committee Chair Dave Brown might count himself – and his organization, which elected state Senator Vin Gopal and his two running mates last year – as exceptions.

He said as much in a statement.

“In my eight years as Chairman of the Monmouth County Democrats, I’ve always focused on party building and electing Democrats,” said Brown. “Today’s court ruling does not change that mission – we will continue to party build and elect Democrats. We applaud and respect the Judge’s decision on the party line – a decision which will lead to more candidates running for office and more opportunities for Democracy. We are proud to have one of the most open and transparent county conventions in the state and that will continue. Onward to June where the Monmouth County Democrats will get out the vote for Joe Biden, Andy Kim and our endorsed candidates and again in November.”

By way of contrast to Brown, furnished statements from machine counties (like those that backed Tammy Murphy over Kim in the pre-primary season) where the line has long protected the establishment, arguably at the expense of vitality, where the ballot formation itself became a fortification against competitive elections and a conformation of complacency; or from battleground organizations experiencing an especially tough challenge in this year’s primary, didn’t exactly shower cyberspace in support of the judge’s ruling.

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10 responses to “The End of the Line”

  1. Good try, Henry.
    You neglect to mention he turned down the line in counties that had already given it to Murphy once she dropped out, but then again you Unlimited Government CONs don’t really care much about facts or what’s really going on.
    Surprised you’ve got time to be on this website. I guess your Lee Greenwood Bible didn’t show up in the mail yet. Probably never going to… another $60 you’ve pissed away

  2. I love how Steve FULOP in his tweet is talking credit for this ruling….. Andy Kim… a previous line candidate was the leader of this. Steve FULOP…as usual went with the wind ….just like when he switched support to Kim from Tammy Murphy… he 100% had inside information from someone close to the governor ! GUARANTEED

  3. Andy Kim always got the line because NO INE EVER RAN AGAINST HIM when he ran for Congress. The line was never an issue in his district. He is not a hypocrite. He has always been against the line.

  4. Commentators on News 12 said Kim was for the line before he was against it. If he was so committed why didn’t he speak out about it in other races like other anti-line advocates did? Kimmy was late to that party! What a hero that Kim is turning down the lines given to Murphy AFTER she dropped out!
    Fulop is another winner, he’s just a weathervane political hack, who goes which way the win blows!

  5. This will take a while to see results. too close to primary day. my representative is Donald Payne Jr. In last election there were two impressive choices, but Payne Jr. inherited the job and the line position, and then the win.
    I hope my Essex county dem leadership will encourage new qualified candidates to run for office.

  6. As has happened across the Country, the demise of the Party system leads to less democracy….it leads to more expensive democracy. So now, just like for board of education, the person with the first ballot position wins. I hope Andy Kim gets a bad position. I like him, a candidate chosen by the Party a few years back to run for Congress. Now I’m mad at him. Not because I’m a Democrat, but because anyone praying attention these past 50 years has seen participation decline dramatically and extreme, well funded candidates, beholden to unseen, wealthy contributors on the left and right, take over. Within 10 years, the right wing will figure out how to use money to tamper with NJ Democrats and they will flip a lot of seats.

  7. Democrats (Communists) are complaining!!! That’s a good thing!!!! They can’t play their machine politics anymore and will have to resort to fraudulent computer voting systems, ballot stuffing, and mail-in ballots to win.

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