The Last Court Ruling on the Line

How things may have been different in New Jersey politics if Tammy Murphy did not run for the Senate.

For openers, a federal court probably would not be talking about “Ballot Siberia.”

That’s an apt description for how New Jersey’s political system has been turned upside down.

And now it’s official.

The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals this week upheld a lower court ruling ending the power of Democratic county leaders to draw up primary ballots that help favored candidates – the so-called county line.

The court put it thusly:

“Even apart from its placement, the county line itself carries weight, as it visually signals to voters the candidates whom the county’s political leadership favors and typically includes ‘incumbents, other highly-recognizable names, and party elites.'”

And then it notes that candidates who are not so favored often end up in “more obscure parts of the ballot to the right (or bottom) of the county line, colloquially referred to as ‘Ballot Siberia.'”

There has been opposition – mostly on the Democratic left – to the county line for some time.

But it was often reserved for insiders. After all, how many average voters dig into how a ballot is compiled?

Things changed five months ago when the First Lady announced her candidacy.

In what had to be a complete shock to both Murphys and the party leaders who quickly backed the First Lady, Andy Kim did not get out of the race. He had announced his candidacy soon after Bob Menendez was indicted.

Not only that, Kim gathered immediate support from active Dems, support that became quite evident when he won the party’s convention in Monmouth County, the First Lady’s home county.

That support continued and in late February, he filed suit challenging the “county line.”
As stated, opposition to the tradition was not new, but Kim’s challenge certainly gave it more attention.

What helped Kim’s fight – at least in terms of public sentiment – was that the First Lady was so weak on this issue, saying merely that the rules are the rules and that she supports them.

We now know what happened.

A federal court imposed an injunction, doing away with the line for at least the 2024 primary. And that has been upheld.

There is still a lingering issue here.

For some odd reason, the rulings do not impact Republicans, who can keep on using the line. At least for the time being. There is a pending challenge to that interpretation.

But for Dems, the majority party in New Jersey, things are going to change.

Even without the “line,” county organizations – like one of the judges involved observed – can still endorse the candidates they want.

They’ll just have to do it without help from the ballot design. How much of a hindrance that turns out to be remains to be seen.

But let’s not overlook the simple fact that Kim began this suit because Tammy Murphy was getting support from the party bosses and others of the same ilk.

Without Murphy in the race, there likely would have been no suit from Kim and business as usual this June for the “elites.”

Not exactly what she wanted, but Tammy Murphy’s ill-fated Senate run accomplished something.

 

 

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