Federal appeals panel sharply questions defenders of NJ’s controversial county line

A federal appeals panel on Friday appeared skeptical of arguments defending New Jersey’s controversial primary ballot design as judges weigh whether it should be used for the June primary.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals panel questioned attorneys on both sides during two hours of oral arguments on whether to keep in place a preliminary injunction from a lower court judge. That preliminary injunction eliminates the state’s unique primary ballot design — known as the county line — for only this year’s primary election and requires office block ballots be used. Only Democratic primary ballots and not GOP primary ballots are subject to the preliminary injunction.

The county line refers to New Jersey’s ballot design where county party-backed candidates are placed more prominently on primary ballots, appearing in a single column or row. Candidates who receive the favored ballot positioning have been shown to have a nearly insurmountable advantage, according to studies. Office block ballots group candidates together by the office they are seeking.

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