State of New Jersey

New Jersey Primary Ballot Design Challenge (2024)

Kim v. Hanlon

Lawsuit filed by U.S. Senate candidate and current Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and two candidates in the 2024 U.S. House of Representatives elections against 19 county clerks challenging the ballot design used in New Jersey’s primary elections. In 19 out of 21 counties, New Jersey’s ballots use a “party column design,” which groups together candidates running for different offices who were endorsed by county party leadership in the same column, known as the “county line.” Candidates who are not endorsed are not included in this preferential column on the ballot, and are instead placed in a column by themselves, separated by one or more blank columns from their endorsed opponents or stacked in a column with other candidates whom they are not associated with. This is an outlier to the traditional office-block design, in which the office being sought is listed followed by a list of all candidates running for that particular office. The plaintiffs argue that this design gives candidates in the “county line” an unfair advantage by positioning their names in a manner that “encourages voters to select them, even when they otherwise might not.” 

The plaintiffs claim that the county clerks’ ballot designs violate the plaintiffs’ First and 14th Amendment rights including under the Equal Protection Clause by providing substantial advantages to certain candidates relative to others on the ballot. The plaintiffs also argue that the county clerks’ ballots violate the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs allege that the Elections Clause only delegates power over congressional elections to states as it relates to the time, place and manner of such elections, the authority of which “cannot be exercised so as to dictate electoral outcomes or to favor or disfavor a particular class of candidates” in the way the clerks’ ballot designs allegedly do. 

The plaintiffs ask the court to prohibit the “party column design” from further use across 19 out of New Jersey’s 21 counties, and order the use of an office-block style ballot organized by the office being sought in the upcoming 2024 primary elections and all future ones. The plaintiffs are seeking relief from the court ahead of the June 4, 2024 primary. On March 14, the court granted the Camden County Democratic Committee’s motion to intervene. On March 29, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, meaning the June Democratic primary will not use the “party column design.” Some of the defendants filed their motion to appeal the decision to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the same day. On April 1, the court denied the defendants’ motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction pending appeal, which the defendants’ appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 3, the 3rd Circuit denied the motion for a stay of the preliminary injunction pending appeal.

Case Documents (District Court)

Case Documents (Third Circuit)

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