Why Everyone in New Jersey Politics Is Talking About ‘the Line’

New Jersey election ballots have long been designed to benefit the favored candidates of local political leaders. But now, in the middle of a high-stakes Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, a move to declare the ballot design unconstitutional could upend the state’s entire electoral system.

In the current ballot design, the candidates officially endorsed by the leaders of the local Democratic and Republican parties are listed in a single column or row in a prominentposition known as “the line.”

The names of challengers appear off to the side, sometimes at the ballot’s edge. Candidates call this “ballot Siberia.”

Studies have shown that candidates whose names appear on “the line” generally win. County political leaders use the system to encourage fealty. As a result, party leaders have outsize control over policy decisions, jobs and government contracts.

A lawsuit challenging the system was filed in 2020. But it was not until last month — when Andy Kim, a Democratic congressman from South Jersey who is competing for a Senate seat now held by Robert Menendez, filed his own legal challenge to the practice — that the long-smoldering issue caught fire.

Mr. Kim is asking a federal judge, Zahid N. Quraishi of U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, to force the state to redesign the ballot before the June 4 primary.

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