New Jersey AG is weighing in on the controversial ballot measure in the Senate race to replace Menendez

By | March 18, 2024

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin’s office said in legal filings on Sunday that state laws creating the so-called party line are unconstitutional and that his office will not defend them in Rep. Andy Kim trying to eliminate the controversial voting design.

The legal filing comes the day before a federal judge is set to hold a hearing in Kim’s lawsuit against the line — New Jersey’s shorthand for preferential voting positions for candidates. Kim is running for U.S. Senate against first lady Tammy Murphy, who has received support from the county party, putting her in a favorable voting position in a majority of the state. They are both seeking to replace indicted Sen. Bob Menendez, a fellow Democrat accused of corruption.

According to multiple studies, provincially-backed candidates who “cross the line” often win elections. That’s critical in a Democratic primary, as New Jersey hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate in 50 years.

Kim wants a preliminary injunction from federal judge Zahid Quraishi to remove the party line from ballots ahead of the June primaries.

“In light of the evidence, the Attorney General has concluded that the challenged statutes are unconstitutional and therefore will not defend them,” the legal filing said.

The decision not to defend state laws that enable the party line puts Platkin at odds with the first lady’s husband, Gov. Phil Murphy. Platkin has long been in Murphy’s inner circle, serving on his 2017 gubernatorial campaign and serving as his chief adviser during Murphy’s first term.

A spokesman for Phil Murphy said Sunday that the attorney general should have defended the law.

“Outside the context of any campaign, Governor Murphy has consistently and accurately noted that candidate alignment is permitted by duly enacted laws that have been on the books for decades,” Murphy’s communications director, Mahen Gunaratna, said. in a statement. It is well established that attorneys general have a general obligation to defend the constitutionality of statutes, regardless of their own personal views. The Governor believes that a legal defense of the statute that allows for parenthetical writing would have been appropriate and consistent with the actions of previous Attorneys General. .”

The New Jersey Globe first reported the incoming legal filing.

The decision is highly unusual, although Platkin’s office said it was justified given the unique nature of New Jersey’s primary voting design. The party line allows candidates endorsed by the county’s political parties to appear in a single column or row on primary ballots, making them appear more prominently before voters. New Jersey is the only state in the country to use the “line” structure in its ballot design; 19 of New Jersey’s 21 counties use the party line.

Sunday’s legal filing by the attorney general’s office said the rule provides an “electoral advantage for candidates who join and a corresponding disadvantage for candidates who do not.” Platkin’s office also said the party-line voting structure creates confusion among voters compared to a ballot in an office building.

“First, a central reason for the Attorney General’s defense of state statutes is to implement the will of the democratic process that enacted these laws, but as explained above, subsequent judicial decisions and practices on the ground have undermined the original intent of the legislature power in enacting the disputed laws. state statutes,” the filing said. “Second, the traditional need for the attorney general to defend the results of the democratic process does not neatly apply to a case in which prosecutors have presented substantial evidence to challenge the statutes as undermining the democratic process.”

The line’s existence has dominated the conversation surrounding New Jersey’s Senate battle, and eliminating it would be a turning point in state politics. Each provincial lot differs in the way it is awarded. In some provinces, hundreds of low-level party officials vote on which candidate they want to award the so-called line. In other cases, one party boss may award the preferential voting position.

Murphy has the support of Democratic counties that are top-down in their approval process, making her favored in a majority of the state. Kim has won the prize in more provinces where it is awarded democratically.

Kim supported ending the party line before entering the Senate race. In a statement Sunday, Murphy said she will follow what the courts say.

“I am running for U.S. Senate and as I have stated repeatedly in this race, I will abide by whatever the courts decide on the conduct of the race,” she said in a statement. “If it remains up to the provincial parties to determine the process, I will complete those conventions and displays. If the judge decides a different route, I will also follow those rules.”

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