Primary voting in New Jersey ‘unconstitutional,’ says state attorney general

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New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin’s office said Sunday that the state’s unique way of showing county-endorsed candidates for Senate and governor on primary ballots is “unconstitutional” and it will not defend it in the courts, following a lawsuit filed in February by Rep. Andy Kim. one of the candidates in a closely watched Senate primary.

The move is the latest twist in an already tumultuous race for the Democratic nomination for a Senate seat in the reliably Democratic state.

Kim and the state’s first lady, Tammy Murphy, are running in the June 4 primary for the seat held by embattled Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez. He has been accused by federal prosecutors of extortion, obstruction of justice and receiving bribes in exchange for helping the governments of Egypt and Qatar. Menéndez pleaded not guilty and has not publicly announced if he will seek re-election.

Platkin’s decision, which was appointed attorney general by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in February 2022, could help level the playing field for people running against candidates favored by party leaders. The loss of the county line would be “an earthquake” and create “a fundamental change in the way New Jersey politics operates,” according to Julia Sas Rubin, a Rutgers professor who presented an expert report to the court on the impact of the ballot design in question. “We are the last of the [political] “The machine relies on the county line to maintain control,” Rubin told The Post on Monday. “If the people who decide who gets the line don’t like you,” you could lose your job, she said.

New Jersey’s ballot design process is unlike any other in the country: It allows parties to place their endorsed candidates on a specific portion of the ballot known as “the line,” while candidates running without their party’s endorsement appear in a different section of the ballot. , below where voters can see their names.

In his lawsuit, Kim claims that New Jersey’s unique ballot design process violates the U.S. Constitution by favoring candidates “who happen to be backed by a faction of a party’s leadership.” Such design choices, the lawsuit claims, “cynically” manipulate voters and are “anathema to fair elections.”

The attorney general described that feature as “unconstitutional” in a letter on Sunday to U.S. District Judge Zahid N. Quraishi. “This is an exceptional case, which justifies the Attorney General’s exceptionally rare decision not to defend the constitutionality of the challenged laws,” the letter states. The result of the ballot design is that “it is often impossible for candidates for non-pivoting offices to secure an earlier position on the ballot compared to their bracketed competitors,” Platkin’s letter says. “These features of grid and bracket voting have also allowed unbracketed candidates to be placed at the end of a ballot with multiple blank spaces separating them from their competitors, creating the phenomenon known as the ‘Siberia ballot.’” .

Therefore, according to the letter, there is “an electoral advantage for candidates who enter the group and a corresponding disadvantage for candidates who do not.”

Representatives for Tammy Murphy and Kim did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Tammy Murphy has been backed up by several prominent New Jersey Democrats, including Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., Donald Norcross, Bill Pascrell Jr. and Donald M. Payne Jr., as well as Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Jr. Kim has also picked up endorsements by some Democratic officials in the state, although largely at the county level.

In a state where Republicans have not won the Senate elections since the 1970s, the fight for the Democratic nomination has been fierce. On Saturday, another Senate candidate, Patricia Campos Medina, said she was denied entry to the Camden County Democratic Convention and posted a video of several men preventing him from entering.

“It’s time to abolish county lines to achieve equal ballot access. Proud to represent real representation.” she wrote in.

The Camden County Democratic Committee did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who had endorsed Murphy for Senate, He criticized her on Sunday for X. for not having “commented/taken any action distancing themselves from this; “There is no rational way to defend it or benefit from it.” On Monday, Fulop announced that he had withdrawn his endorsement of Murphy and is now supporting Kim.

“I told @AndyKimNJ that it’s not always comfortable to admit a mistake, but I clearly made one here and this convention season has proven that he is the best candidate to represent New Jersey.” Fulop wrote in. “The backbone of our party, the volunteers and activists, have spoken loudly and we must listen to them.”

Fulop is one of the candidates run to succeed Phil Murphy as governor next year.

Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.

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