3rd Circuit Keeps “County Line” Blocked for New Jersey’s 2024 Democratic Primaries

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This afternoon, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a decision that blocked the controversial “county line” ballot design for New Jersey’s June 2024 Democratic primary elections.

New Jersey voters who are participating in the state’s Democratic primary elections will for the first time in decades cast ballots that conform to the conventional design utilized in all other states. 

Today’s ruling comes less than a month after federal Judge Judge Zahid Quraishi ruled in favor of U.S. Senate candidate and current Rep. Andy Kim, who sued alongside other Democratic congressional candidates to eliminate the county line ahead of the upcoming primaries. 

The hotly contested ballot design — which Quraishi found to be likely unconstitutional — groups candidates who are endorsed by county party leadership in a separate column, in turn putting non-endorsed candidates at a disadvantage. The county line design is a stark outlier relative to all other states that utilize traditional office-block style ballots, which group candidates together according to the office they are seeking.

Following Quraishi’s preliminary injunction blocking the use of the county line, numerous county clerks, as well as the Camden County Democratic Committee (CCDC), appealed to the 3rd Circuit. After the 3rd Circuit declined various sets of requests to pause the ruling, New Jersey county clerks — faced with imminent deadlines — withdrew their appeal and agreed to begin preparing and printing office-block style ballots for the upcoming Democratic primary. 

Despite the clerks’ withdrawal, CCDC remained in the appeal and last week urged a three-judge 3rd Circuit panel to reverse Quraishi’s ruling and reinstate the county line. 

In today’s ruling, the unanimous panel — composed of two Democratic and one Republican appointee — agreed that the “county-line system is discriminatory” since “it picks winners and punishes those who are not endorsed.” The panel also flatly rejected the CCDC’s argument that changing the ballot design too close to the election would cause voter confusion, emphasizing to the contrary that “the District Court’s order would reduce, if not eliminate voter confusion.”

“Based on the record developed in the District Court, there is a very substantial likelihood that the Plaintiffs will succeed on the merits [of their constitutional claims],” the ruling concluded. 

While Democratic primary voters will cast office-block ballots this June, those participating in the GOP primaries will overwhelmingly cast ballots that utilize the county line. Just yesterday, a New Jersey state court judge rejected a bid from a group of Republican candidates who sought to do away with the county line and force counties to adhere to Quraishi’s injunction for the GOP primaries. 

In celebrating today’s ruling, Kim said in a post on X that “[t]he 3rd Circuit Appeals Court affirms our legal win for fair ballots this June! This movement pushing for fair elections in NJ is powerful and is changing politics in NJ for the better.”

Kim’s attorneys called the ruling “monumental,” writing in a statement that it “makes clear that New Jersey’s anti-democratic practice of the county line places an unconstitutional ‘governmental thumb on the scale’ and will not be tolerated by the courts.”

Following today’s ruling, litigation will continue in Kim’s case, as he ultimately seeks to permanently strike down the idiosyncratic ballot design for all future elections. 

Read the opinion here. 

Learn more about the case here.