Federal judge orders New Jersey to redesign primary ballot

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim had argued that New Jersey’s one-of-a-kind primary ballot would violate his constitutional rights.

A woman deposits her ballot in an election drop box in Jersey City, N.J.

A woman deposits her ballot in an election drop box in Jersey City, N.J., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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A federal judge in New Jersey has ordered the state to redesign its unique primary ballot, which favors candidates backed by political parties, known as “the line.”

Judge Zahid Qurashi in a 49-page opinion sided with U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, stating that Kim, a contender for the U.S. Senate race, would be harmed by the county line ballot, and directed clerks to redesign it.

“Plaintiffs have put forth credible evidence not only that their constitutional rights are violated by the present ballot design used in New Jersey, which is used in no other state in the country, … but that Defendants would suffer minimal harm in implementing the ballot design requested by Plaintiffs,” Qurashi wrote.

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Dr. Ben Dworkin,  director of the Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship at Rowan University, said the decision is a seminal moment in New Jersey political history.

“If this continues, and there is no line moving forward, it marks a completely new era in state politics,” he said.

Leroy J. Jones Jr., Chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, said the party is focusing on the future.

“I am looking forward to moving past this important process-oriented discussion about ballot design and refocusing our work to make sure we beat Donald Trump in November.”

Kim filed his lawsuit in February and arguments were heard on March 18.

In his opinion, Qurashi found that clerks’ arguments that Kim’s lawsuit was filed “last minute” was not the case.

“It was filed 100 days before the primary election on June 4th, and well over a month before the April 5th deadline for preparing official primary election ballots for printing,” Qurashi wrote.

The judge found that Kim’s First Amendment rights would be violated because the line would associate him with candidates who are not supportive of his U.S. Senate campaign.

The court’s decision comes days after first lady Tammy Murphy withdrew from the Senate race. Her campaign was based on “the idea of inevitability,” and that she would receive establishment support.

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Qurashi noted in his opinion that “Kim’s harms are not alleviated” because of Murphy’s exit from the campaign trail.

On face value, the judge was not buying the clerk’s argument that they can’t redesign the ballot, according to Micah Rasmuseen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

“He didn’t just want the clerks to show up in court and say we can’t do this, he wanted them to show him why they couldn’t do it,”  Rasmussen said.

Advocates who wanted to see the end of ‘the line’ celebrated the judge’s decision.

“Abolishing the line is critical to both free and fair elections and advancing policies in the interests of everyday New Jerseyans,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a 2025 gubernatorial candidate, commended advocates for pushing the issue.

“This is a victory for the people, and proof that nothing can stop determined residents fighting for what’s right,” he said.

Opinion from Federal District Judge Zahid Quraishi:

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