A Revamped Ballot Design Jumpstarts Democracy in New Jersey

As New Jersey Democrats vote in Tuesday’s primaries, they’ll encounter a revamped ballot, stripped of a unique design that critics say has given party leaders the ability to hand-select primary winners.

To people living anywhere else in the nation, the new ballot would look very familiar. Offices will appear on the ballot as distinct blocks, inviting voters to consider them separately from each other. But in New Jersey, this design is overhauling a longstanding practice.

A federal judge in March barred county clerks from printing Democratic primary ballots that use the “county line,” a bespoke New Jersey ballot system that grouped candidates who are seeking separate offices—from president down to sheriff—into single rows or columns. Within each county, candidates gained a spot in the most advantageous grouping—where they were paired with well-known incumbents running for higher offices—through an endorsement by that county’s party. That prominent placement came with a powerful boost; candidates with support from party leaders seldom failed to win a nomination.

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