GGCNJ Resolution to Establish a Fair Ballot

Whereas the majority of Democratic and Republican Party primary voters in New Jersey vote using ballots organized around a so-called “county line,” an entire column or row of party-endorsed candidates (Figure 1);

Whereas party-endorsed candidates benefit from appearing on the “county line” alongside better-known candidates, such as those running for President, U.S. Senator, or Governor and are further advantaged because the “county line” typically occupies one of the initial columns or rows on the ballot, while candidates not on the “county line” are disadvantaged by being placed in other columns or rows, sometimes located far away from the county line candidates, and grouped haphazardly and arbitrarily, thereby denying challengers and new voices a fair chance at being elected;

Whereas Rutgers University researchers found that the consequences of the “county line” in advantaging some candidates over others are large and measurable (including providing party-endorsed candidates for Congress with a 35 percentage-point average advantage during the 2020 New Jersey primary), contributing to the fact that no congressional incumbent on the “county line” has lost a primary election in New Jersey over the last 50 years (while nationally, 8 congressional incumbents lost a primary election in 2020 alone) and no state legislative incumbent on the “county line” has lost a primary election in New Jersey since 2009 (while nationally 154 state legislative incumbents lost a primary election in 2020 alone);

Whereas this “county line” ballot design makes it challenging for voters to determine which candidates are running for which office and encourages voters to choose the candidates on the “county line” — the easy-to-find and visually consistent option;

Whereas the “county line” ballot design confuses voters, resulting in overvotes and undervotes, for example, during the 2020 New Jersey primary election, voter confusion caused by the “county line” ballots resulted in 32.4% of all Mercer County Democratic voters in the 4th Congressional District having their votes disqualified because they selected two Congressional candidates, and 19% of all Atlantic County Democratic voters not voting for any US Senate candidate;

Whereas multiple studies conducted by researchers at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice have found that ballot design impacts voting behavior and election outcomes;

Whereas the advantages provided by the “county line” disproportionately empower a small group of party insiders who decide which candidates appear on the line, making candidates and elected representatives beholden to these party insiders rather than accountable to voters;

Whereas New Jersey is the only state that uses a “county line” primary ballot design, while in every other state and in Washington, DC, primary ballots are organized by the electoral position being sought, with candidates listed beneath or to the right of each position (see Figure 2 below); and

Whereas this ballot structure weakens the democratic process in the state of New Jersey;

now therefore, be it resolved, that the undersigned recognizes the need for primary election ballot reform that promotes fairness and minimizes confusion among voters, and supports the following revisions to New Jersey’s primary election ballot system:

  1. “Office Bloc Display”: require primary election ballots of all kinds (machine, paper, vote-by-mail, provisional, emergency, etc.) in all counties to be displayed in “office bloc” format whereby each office listed is immediately followed by the candidates running for that office, and is listed separately from any other office.
  2. Rotational Order System: require the county clerks to adopt a system for determining the order in which candidate names will be placed on the ballot, so that, to the greatest extent possible, all candidates running for the same office will receive the first and subsequent ballot positions in an equal number of election districts and no candidate will be advantaged over other candidates on the basis of their ballot placement.
Figure 1: 2019 Camden County Democratic Primary Ballot with “County Line” in Column 1
Figure 2: Elko County, Nevada 2018 Democratic primary ballot

Signatories (alphabetical order; updated periodically):

Statewide organizations:
Action Together New Jersey (ATNJ)

Citizens Advocating for Safe Elections (CASE)
Fair Ballot Project
Food & Water Watch

Force the Issue NJ
League of Women Voters of New Jersey (LWVNJ)
March for Our Lives New Jersey
New Jersey Policy Perspectives
NJ Citizen Action
NJ Working Families

OPRAmachine
Our Revolution New Jersey
Represent.Us/New Jersey

Save Our Schools NJ

Local organizations:
Central Jersey Progressive Democrats 

Collingswood Democratic Committee
Hudson County Progressive Alliance
Indivisible Cranbury
Indivisible NJ5
Neptune Progressives
NJ-08 For Progress
NJ 11th For Change

Our Revolution Monmouth
Our Revolution Trenton Mercer
People Demanding Action NJ
Piscataway Progressive Democratic Organization
STAND Central NJ
Sunrise Union County