New Jersey Judge Upholds County Line for 2024 GOP Primaries

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A New Jersey judge ruled yesterday that most counties can maintain the controversial “county line” ballot design for the state’s June 2024 Republican primaries. 

Yesterday’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed by four Republican congressional candidates who sought to abolish the use of the county line across 18 New Jersey counties ahead of the state’s June 2024 primary elections. 

The county line ballot design contested by the lawsuit groups together candidates who are endorsed by county party leadership in a separate column, but places non-endorsed candidates in other columns — oftentimes in a list with other candidates who are not all running for the same office. 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.

The Republican candidates brought their challenge on the heels of a groundbreaking ruling issued by a federal judge last month in favor of U.S. Senate candidate and current Rep. Andy Kim (D) and others who sought to block the county line for the state’s 2024 Democratic primaries. Although the federal judge in Kim’s lawsuit encouraged the GOP to adhere to the ruling — which held that the county line is likely unconstitutional — he clarified that his decision is limited to the Democratic primaries. 

In yesterday’s ruling from the bench, New Jersey state court Judge John E. Harrington denied the Republican candidates’ request to require all counties to adhere to the federal ruling and abolish the county line for the upcoming Republican primaries. The judge specifically stated that it is “just too late” to mandate that county clerks redraw and print traditional office-block style ballots this late in the election cycle.

Harrington acknowledged yesterday that his ruling applies to all but three of New Jersey’s 21 counties — including Burlington, Salem and Sussex — where county clerks plan to utilize the office-block design. While clerks in Salem and Sussex counties already used the office-block style, the Burlington County clerk opted to follow the federal ruling in Kim’s case and do away with the county line in both the Democratic and Republican primaries for the first time this election cycle. 

Just last week, Harrington denied a request from the Burlington County Regular Republican Organization in a separate lawsuit seeking to require the county clerk to reinstate the county line for the GOP primary. In that case, Harrington held that the Burlington County clerk had discretion when designing ballots. 

Meanwhile, litigation in Kim’s federal lawsuit over the county line for the state’s Democratic primaries remains ongoing. Last Friday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral argument over an appeal of last month’s ruling that eliminated the county line for the 2024 Democratic primary. Although the 3rd Circuit previously declined to pause that ruling as litigation proceeds, it could either affirm or reverse the ruling at any time now that a three-judge panel has heard arguments. 

For the time being, New Jersey voters participating in the Democratic primaries will for the first time in decades cast ballots without the “county line.” In contrast, most who are voting in the GOP primary will see the county line on their ballots. 

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.