‘Convoluted’ Ballots Give Some Candidates a Leg Up, Lawsuit Says
Primary election ballots being used by in-person voters on Tuesday, or that have already been delivered by voters via mail or designated dropboxes, are the focus of a lawsuit filed in the United States Court for the District of New Jersey.
Filed Monday on behalf of Christine Conforti, a candidate running in New Jersey's 4th Congressional District for the U.S. House of Representatives, the suit alleges that the layout of the primary ballots fails to treat candidates equally and is designed to benefit certain candidates over others, violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution in the process, along with corresponding provisions of the New Jersey State Constitution.
The suit challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey's "ballot line" names Monmouth County Clerk Christine Giordano Hanlon, Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella and Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello. The 4th district includes dozens of municipalities in those counties.
"New Jersey is the only state that organizes its ballot by columns of bracketed groupings of candidates, which just becomes very convoluted," said Brett Pugach, a lawyer representing Conforti. "You have situations where candidates that are running for the same office may be separated by numerous blank spaces."
Pugach refers to this placement as "ballot Siberia." The concept is the subject of a new research paper by a Rutgers University professor that suggests primary ballots in New Jersey allow party insiders to pick winners.
"Voters are also tricked into thinking that some candidates may be better representatives than others simply because they sit in a certain place on our ballot," said Imani Oakly, northern vice chairperson for Progressive Democrats of New Jersey.
A 501(c)3 affiliated with Progressive Democrats of New Jersey provided initial funding for the the lawsuit.
"This simply is not good for democracy. We need ballot bubbles in New Jersey," Oakly said.
Because much of this year's coronavirus-delayed primary is being conducted by mail, some counties in the Garden State are using the bubble ballot system, which pools all candidates for a certain position in one spot.
"Other states don't have things like bracketing, the county line, the posturing and gamesmanship that accompanies those things," Pugach added.
As of 3:30 p.m. Monday, 30 minutes before the lawsuit was officially announced, neither the Ocean County Clerk nor the Mercer County Clerk had any knowledge on the matter. The Ocean County Clerk indicated a comment on pending litigation likely wouldn't be offered, once it was looked over. An attempt to reach the Monmouth County Clerk's Office was unsuccessful.