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Andy Kim asks court to bar the county line

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Andy Kim asks court to bar the county line

Feb 26, 2024 | 5:21 pm ET
By Nikita Biryukov
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Andy Kim asks court to bar the county line
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A lawsuit filed by Rep. Andy Kim alleges the county line is unconstitutional. He wants it barred for June's primaries. (Erin Scott/Bloomberg)

Rep. Andy Kim is asking a federal court to block New Jersey counties from printing ballots that include a party line, alleging that candidates on the line receive an unconstitutional advantage.

Kim, one of four Democrats seeking their party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in June, urged the court to bar the use of county lines in June’s primary, suggesting they could order New Jersey to use office block ballots instead. Kim’s chief rival in the primary is First Lady Tammy Murphy.

“The issue presented to the Court today is quite simple: the line must be abolished because it is unconstitutional, and a court decree acknowledging its constitutional illegitimacy can be easily entered prohibiting and enjoining its use in the upcoming 2024 primary,” Kim’s attorneys said in his filing.

Unlike almost every state in the nation, most New Jersey counties group political candidates on the ballot by slogan rather than by office sought, and candidates can bracket with one another to appear on a single line — a column or row — on election ballots.

As a result, candidates backed by county organizations appear on the line with candidates seeking higher or lower office who are often incumbents with their own advantages, while those off the line can end up alone in the far-flung reaches of what critics of the practice call “ballot Siberia.”

Kim has won three county lines in this year’s Senate race, in Burlington, Hunterdon, and Monmouth counties. But Murphy has the support of high-ranking Democratic officials who have awarded her the line in Passaic County and are expected to give her the line in Essex and Hudson.

Monday’s filing, which was joined by congressional candidates Sarah Schoengood and Carolyn Rush, argues the practice violates the right to free association because candidates who choose not to bracket with others are at an automatic disadvantage.

Though rules for the line and ballot design vary by county, in some, candidates can automatically be relegated to the furthest corners of a ballot simply because they did not seek to bracket with candidates for races at the top of the ballot.

“Jersey voters are tired of the broken politics that lets party leaders give their hand-picked candidates preferential placement on the ballot. This unfair process needs to end now,” Kim said in a statement. “The people deserve a ballot like what every other state uses that is fair, democratic, and allows their voices to be the ones that determine who represents them.”

This isn’t the first time the line has faced a legal challenge. Former congressional candidate Christine Conforti filed a suit challenging the line in 2020, but that suit has barely inched forward since.

There’s reason to believe Kim’s suit could move faster: The Senate primary is in June.

Murphy’s campaign issued a statement doubting Kim’s motives for seeking an end to the county line.

“Andy Kim doesn’t have a problem with the county line system, he has a problem with the idea of losing county lines — as he is perfectly happy to participate in the process when he wins, and he has benefited from the lines in every other election he’s run,” said Alex Altman, a spokesperson for Murphy. “This sad hypocritical stunt by DC politician Kim is just another attempt to advance his career in Washington.”

Kim called for the abolition of the line in September, weeks before Murphy entered the race.

Kim told reporters Monday that he has only been challenged in one primary during his three House races, so he never really understood the power of line or “experienced it full force.”

“Maybe this is something that the first lady doesn’t understand because she’s coming into politics as part of the most powerful political family in the state, but this is something that people — they want to run for office — they feel they have to participate in this because it’s the only way that you can … have a chance to get into office,” Kim said.