Mar 31, 2024
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3 mins read

US judge scraps New Jersey's ballot design for June primary

US judge scraps New Jersey's ballot design for June primary

By Nate Raymond and Kanishka Singh
March 30, 2024 5:03 AM GMT+7

March 29 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Friday forced New Jersey to scrap its unique primary ballot design that gives party-backed candidates an advantage, in a decision that could significantly upset the state's political system.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Zahid Quraishi in Trenton was a victory for Democratic U.S. Representative Andy Kim, who along with two congressional candidates had sued various county clerks earlier this year arguing the ballot design was unconstitutional.

The ballot design at issue was used in 19 of the state's 21 counties and placed candidates endorsed by county party leaders in a single column, which the plaintiffs said allowed them to be more prominently featured and gave them an edge.

Candidates without that backing could be relegated to obscure parts of the ballot.

Kim, a Democrat who is running to be elected to the U.S. Senate seat currently held by indicted U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, sued alongside two candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, Sarah Schoengood and Carolyn Rush.

They argued the ballot design to be used in the state's June 4 primary violates the U.S. Constitution by burdening their First Amendment right to associate with other candidates of their choosing and exceeding the state's right to regulate the manner of federal elections.

Quraishi, an appointee of Democratic President Joe Biden, agreed, saying they had put forward credible evidence their rights were being violated. While he acknowledged that ordering a redesign would be "extraordinary," he said they had shown the counties would suffer minimal harm by implementing a new design.

"The integrity of the democratic process for a primary election is at stake," Quraishi wrote.

He ordered the use instead of a ballot that is organized by office sought, with a randomized system that gives each candidate for a given office an equal chance at obtaining the first position on the ballot.

Kim in a statement hailed the ruling as a "victory for a fairer, more democratic politics in New Jersey."

Defense lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

Kim had for months been expected in the Democratic primary to face Tammy Murphy, Democratic New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy's wife, who within a week of launching her campaign had secured the endorsement of numerous county leaders.

She dropped her Senate bid on Sunday, likely paving the way for Kim to secure the Democratic nomination. Menendez last week said he would not run for reelection as a Democrat, but suggested he could run as an independent.

Menendez is facing federal charges that he took bribes from New Jersey businessmen to impede law enforcement probes into them and illegally acted as an agent of the Egyptian government and obstruction of justice. Menendez has pleaded not guilty.

Source: Reuters