An ‘unfair’ line

Jersey City Council adopts resolution seeking to eliminate lines on primary ballots

With a 2-0-4 vote the Jersey City Council adopted a resolution in support of eliminating rows, lines and columns on primary ballots.
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With a 2-0-4 vote the Jersey City Council adopted a resolution in support of eliminating rows, lines and columns on primary ballots.

The Jersey City Council has passed a resolution endorsing the abolition of party lines on primary ballots in the interests of fair elections.

According to the resolution, sponsored by Ward E Councilman James Solomon, New Jersey primary election ballots are configured to “stack the deck” for certain candidates at the expense of others, “thereby undermining the integrity of elections and hindering our democracy.”

New Jersey is the only state in the nation that organizes its primary election ballots by bracketing groups of candidates in a column or row, rather than by listing the office sought followed immediately by the names of all candidates running for that office.

This line “provides an unfair advantage,” according to the resolution, which cites that between 2009 and 2019 not a single incumbent state legislator lost his or her election when “awarded the line.”

According to an August 2020 paper by Associate Professor at Rutgers University Julia Sass Rubin titled “Does the County Line Matter?,” the difference between being on the county line and not being on the county line varied a candidate’s share of the vote by as much as 50 percentage points in some 2020 Primary Election races.

This resolution comes after a March 6 letter sent to Chair of the Hudson County Democratic Committee Amy DeGise by members of the Hudson County Democratic Organization asking for a special meeting to propose changes to their bylaws to end the “line” endorsement as well as lift the binary gender cap for individuals running for county committee.

This week, Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis announced William B. Sampson IV will be the new candidate for state Assembly for the 31st Legislative District. Hudson County political tradition holds that the mayors of cities or towns in the legislative district have the power to choose state assembly and state senate nominations.

This bumps incumbent Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti from “the line,” with the power to determine who gets “the line,” formally held by the Hudson County Democratic Party Chairperson.

“For all practical purpose, the voters in LD 31 will have their representative chosen for them by Mayor Davis and Chairwoman DeGise, instead of by the voters themselves,” states the Jersey City resolution.

Public support  

Several members of the public spoke in favor of the last-minute resolution during the virtual March 10 Jersey City Council meeting.

“For 20 years, we have been apparently operating in a system where mayors get to handpick assembly members,” said Jersey City resident Marc Devans of the Hudson County Progressive Alliance and a co-signer the March 6 letter.

Union City resident Hector Oseguera, who ran against Congressman Albio Sires last year, spoke in favor of the resolution.

“End the HCDO line endorsement process,” he said. “As elected officials, you should be beholden to the people, not the political bosses.”

Jersey City resident Gary Spingarn, of the Hudson County Progressive Alliance, said “the line continues to damage our communities in our democracy. … Things like this make the electoral process feel so futile.”

An unheard of vote

In a move not seen in recent years, the Jersey City Council adopted the resolution with just a 2-0-4 vote

Solomon and Councilman-at-Large Rolando Lavarro voted in the resolution’s favor while Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey, Ward C Councilman Rich Boggiano, and Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh abstained.

Council President Joyce Watterman, Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley, and Ward F Councilman Jermaine Robinson were absent from the meeting.

“It’s crucial because at the end of the day voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around,” Solomon said. “The line provides such a strong advantage to the party machine across the whole state that it really undermines the core idea of democracy- that the voters pick their representatives … It creates such an uneven playing field.”

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.