Judge mulls ending NJ party-line ballot system for blockbuster Democratic U.S. Senate primary

A federal judge on Monday heard arguments over Rep. Andy Kim’s lawsuit to abolish New Jersey’s party-line ballot system ahead of his blockbuster Democratic U.S. Senate primary against First Lady Tammy Murphy.

U.S. District Court Judge Zahid Qureishi quizzed officials about the decades-old system that foes say is intended to make it difficult for voters to find rebels like Kim on the June 4 Democratic primary ballot.

“Why can’t the counties endorse (candidates) and stay away from the ballot?” Quraishi asked a lawyer defending county clerks, who administer the system. “Why does it have to be that they also control the ballot?”

He said the fact that the state’s powerful Democratic Party machine has implemented the system for many years does not make it justified.

“The argument that: ‘this is how we’ve always done it, so this is how it should be’ is not going to convince this court,” Quraishi said.

The judge also suggested he wouldn’t consider the stance of N.J. Attorney General Matt Platkin, who sided with Kim and says the county line system is unconstitutional.

Kim, a popular lawmaker from suburban central Jersey, is battling Tammy Murphy, who’s married to Gov. Phil Murphy, for the Democratic nod to take the seat now held by scandal-tarred Sen. Robert Menendez.

The winner will be a heavy favorite to win the November election in the deep-blue Garden State.

Menendez, who is awaiting trial on bribery and corruption charges, says he may run as an independent but has plunged to single digits in polls.

Kim seems to be picking up political momentum in the race against Tammy Murphy, who has never run for public office and was a lifelong Republican before switching parties.

Meanwhile, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop switched his support from Tammy Murphy to Kim in a sign Kim is gaining traction against the governor’s wife.