New Jersey AG not opposing Andy Kim’s lawsuit over primary ballot layout

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin (D) says he will not intervene to defend the state’s system of organizing its primary ballot based on the “county line,” agreeing with a lawsuit that it is unconstitutional.

Platkin said in a letter to U.S. District Judge Zahid Quraishi on Sunday that he believes the county line system undermines the “democratic process” of selecting candidates in the primary. The lawsuit was brought last month by Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), who is running in the Democratic primary for Senate, and two House candidates.

“This is an exceptional case, justifying the Attorney General’s exceptionally rare decision not to defend the constitutionality of the challenged statutes,” Platkin said in the letter.

New Jersey’s primary ballot system is different from every other state in the country. The ballot is designed as a grid, and in almost all the state’s counties, a candidate’s placement on the primary ballot is decided by receiving the endorsement of the county party.

If a candidate receives the county endorsement, their name would be placed in the same column as other candidates that the county party endorses for other offices, like president and U.S. representative. A candidate who does not receive the endorsement would be placed in a different column.

An endorsed candidate would benefit from this system because voters could go down the line of county endorsees to cast their ballot and miss another candidate’s name on the ballot.

Platkin said in the letter that the plaintiffs in the case “produced substantial record evidence to challenge the statutes as undermining the democratic process.”

“Government, including the Defendants (who themselves are often beneficiaries of the county line as elected officers) cannot constitutionally design a primary ballot to favor only those candidates who happen to be endorsed by a faction of a party’s leadership,” the plaintiffs’ lawsuit from last month says.

The attorney general’s office is not a named defendant in the case, and Platkin’s decision alone does not necessarily mean that the lawsuit will be successful. But it is a significant development that the state government’s top law enforcement officer is not opposing a suit that could overhaul how New Jersey runs primary elections.

Platkin sent the letter one day before Quraishi was set to hear arguments in the case on Monday.

The issue of county lines has taken central focus in the primary between Kim and New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who has not yet publicly announced whether he will seek reelection.

Menendez has been widely denounced over the criminal charges against him alleging bribery and other crimes. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and refused calls to step down.

Kim and Murphy have been battling with each other to receive the county endorsements at conventions held over the past month. Both candidates have won several county endorsements.

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