Third Circuit Court of Appeals Denies Clerks’ Request for a Stay in Ballot Case

A three-judge panel today denied a stay requested by county clerks of a judge’s decision concerning ballot construction in the June Democratic Primary.

The clerks wanted the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to stay the judge’s ruling to grant U.S. Senate candidate Andy Kim and his allies relief from a ballot design the judge ruled unconstitutional.

It didn’t.

“My office will not be continuing in the appeal of the court’s injunction,” said Monmouth County Clerk Christine Hanlon. “That being said, my office will continue working as fast as possible to try to come up with the best solution, in coordination with the Superintendent and Board of Elections, as well as our ballot printing vendor and representatives from ES&S, to ensure a that we can comply with the Court order and effectuate an election with integrity for our Monmouth County voters.”

Said Paula Sollami Covello, Esq., Mercer County Clerk:

“As Mercer County Clerk, I am withdrawing from the Appeal of the injunction issued by Judge Quraishi following the Third Circuit Court of Appeal’s denial of a Stay in the Kim v. Hanlon case.  As I have stated previously, this appeal was about the timing of the federal court’s decision and the immediate impact on ballot preparation and the election process. The denial of a stay means that the ballot design and drawing of candidate positions will proceed as ordered by the Court. At this time, my office will move forward in preparing ballots for mailing for the upcoming NJ Primary Election.  The drawing is set by statute for today, April 4, 2024 at 3pm, in the Office of the Mercer County Clerk in Trenton, NJ.  Following the drawing, ballots must be prepared in time to be mailed out to voters on April 20, 2024.”

Most clerks, in fact, dropped the appeal, signaling their willingness to move on now in advance of the primary.

Almost to a person, the clerks have said they don’t necessarily object to the “line” ballots long in use in New Jersey and tossed by Judge Zahid N. Quraishi. They say they have a problem with the logistics of trying to furnish block ballots on a short runway for an election wherein early voting starts in three weeks.

From one source, who is party to the appeal, speaking on condition of anonymity:

“I wish that judges were required to be versed in what they are making decisions about. The judge is really off base and doesn’t have a clue about what it takes to put an election together. And I pray the legislature gives us a seat at the table when they revamp the law. Not for policy but at least for implementation.”

But the appeals court saw it the judge’s way.

An expedited briefing on merits is scheduled for 4/12.

But it’s unraveling.

On Wednesday night, the Hoboken City Council unanimously adopted a resolution to urge all remaining County Clerks from across the State of New Jersey to drop the appeal of today’s injunction regarding county lines for the June Democratic primary.

Emily Jabbour, Councilperson-at-Large for the City of Hoboken, and co-sponsor of the resolution, comments: “The abolishment of the line is a significant change in the universe of New Jersey politics, giving power back to the people. This change will help level the playing field – especially for female candidates, minority candidates, and working class representatives who’ve had to work twice as hard to fight against preferential treatment on the ballot. But, our work isn’t done yet. I urge in the strongest of terms the remaining County Clerks to drop their appeal and continued defense of the undemocratic ‘line.’  Thank you to Hudson County Clerk E. Junior Maldonado for doing what is right for Hudson County voters – it is now time for all County Clerks to follow this strong example.”

On March 14, Councilmember Jabbour joined 37 other electeds and former candidates calling for the end of the county organizational lines.

Today, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal from New Jersey county clerks to suspend the abolishment of the line. An additional appeal by the clerks will be heard on April 12.

Continued appeals by clerks would represent a wasteful expenditure of taxpayer funds, diverting resources from pressing needs such as immediate ballot redesign and voter education, while disregarding the will of New Jersey voters and the consensus among good-government groups that the Line System infringes upon democratic rights. Extensive social sciences research has demonstrated that the use of the “Line System” confers an exceptional electoral advantage in primary elections, effectively guaranteeing victory for those candidates endorsed by select County political party leaders, thereby often securing success in subsequent general elections.

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