Are New Jersey Voters Too Dumb for Normal Ballots?

A federal judge has ordered Democrats in New Jersey to draw up ballots fairly instead of putting their favorite candidates at the front. But state Democratic bosses think that voters can’t be trusted to figure out how to think for themselves.

Somerset County Democratic Committee Chair Peg Schaffer complained to Politico that it will “cost us more money” to tell voters what to do. “Instead of saying to people ‘vote column 1’ we’re going to have to send them a color-coded card saying where everybody is on the ballot,” said Schaffer, who is also the statewide Democratic vice chair.

Hudson County Democratic Organization Chairman Anthony Vainieri Jr., meanwhile, argued that new voting machines were already straining voters’ brains, so a non-rigged ballot would just be too confusing.

“If [the judge] was acting to abolish the party lines he should have done it for next year, not this year, because we need more time to educate our voters and for the county clerks to redesign the ballots,” he said in a Friday statement. “Residents in Hudson County are still trying to get used to the new voting machines installed last year, especially our seniors, and this is absolutely the wrong time to force such a drastic change on our voters.”

Bear in mind that every other state in America already uses the ballots that Schaffer and Vaineiri are complaining about. Under New Jersey’s unique “county line” system, party bosses in each county can choose which candidates go in the first column of primary ballots. Other candidates are exiled to “ballot Siberia,” their names scattered “helter-skelter” across the ballot.

Being in the first column gives candidates an average advantage of about 38 percentage points, according to an analysis submitted to the court by Princeton University neuroscience professor Samuel S.-H. Wang, who calls the county line a “powerful force to steer voter behavior towards specific choices.”

U.S. District Judge Zahid Quraishi issued a temporary injunction on Friday ordering New Jersey to draw up “office-block” style ballots that put candidates for the same office in an equal position—the same style that all other 49 states use—for the upcoming Democratic primary. County bosses are appealing the decision, fighting for their right to control the ballot design.

Quraishi’s decision only applies to Democratic primary ballots, but a pro-Trump group called the America First Republicans for New Jersey has vowed to fight the county line system in Republican primaries as well.

Federal courts are intervening thanks to a corruption scandal involving another old-fashioned Hudson County politico. Sen. Bob Menendez (D) was indicted last year for an alleged bribery scheme lifted straight from The Sopranos, involving gold bars and a meat company linked to the Egyptian government. Democratic leaders tried to crown Tammy Murphy, the governor’s wife, as Menendez’s replacement.

But rival candidate Andy Kim sued to abolish county line ballots and make the primary competitive. Even after Murphy dropped out of the race and county bosses endorsed Kim, he has continued to insist that the county line system is unfair.

“This is not a system I want to participate in,” Kim told reporters. “I think it’s unfair. That’s why I’m trying to change it.”

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