OPINION: SOMA Action Celebrates the Beginning of the End of the Line

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From SOMA Action:

In a win for democracy, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on April 17 upheld a lower court ruling requiring candidates to be grouped by office in the 2024 Democratic primary instead of being grouped based on party endorsement on the so-called “county line.” Even better, the court unanimously agreed that the “county-line system is discriminatory” and that attempts by the plaintiffs to permanently overturn the line are likely to succeed.

“We are absolutely thrilled by this ruling,” said Jessica James, President of SOMA Action. “It’s a testament both to the years of work that activists have put in to lay the groundwork for this effort and also to the way that SOMA Action, Fair Ballot Alliance-NJ, and other groups were able to seize the opportunity Andy Kim’s candidacy presented to finally bring the line down.”

U.S. Representative Andy Kim’s insurgent campaign to unseat indicted Senator Robert Menendez was a major turning point in the fight against the line. A prior lawsuit brought by the NJ Working Families Party on behalf of candidates who lost elections in the past had been stalled in the courts for years, but Kim’s status as a current candidate allowed him to win an injunction in a matter of weeks.

“We’re incredibly proud of Andy Kim, and proud that SOMA Action endorsed him so soon after he announced he was running,” said Amy Higer, co-chair of SOMA’s Democracy Action Committee. “He put his entire career on the line by declaring his candidacy without asking permission from the party bosses first. Then he had the guts to call for an injunction on county line ballots, pointing out how the line is discriminatory not only when he didn’t get it, but also when he did. He continued to support this lawsuit even after Tammy Murphy, his primary opponent in the race, dropped out. And now, after years of activism, here we are.”

SOMA Action endorsed Andy Kim for U.S. Senate in October and played a leadership role in the Fair Ballot Alliance-NJ, a coalition of 29 grassroot groups calling for a fair primary election in 2024.

“Our work isn’t over yet, though,” cautioned Erika Malinoski, another Democracy Action Committee co-chair. “Although the court has ruled that counties can’t bracket party endorsed candidates together, there are still a variety of ways that the ballot design can put a thumb on the scales or confuse voters. Counties like Atlantic, Salem, and Sussex did a really good job making sure that candidates for different offices are clearly separated from each other. But in Essex County, voters who are in the habit of voting Line A could easily do so again without noticing that anything much has changed. We urge election officials to use national best practices and ballot design resources to ensure all our ballots are clear and fair.”


See below: Atlantic County 2024 Primary Ballot vs. Essex County 2024 Primary Ballot.

Additional counties’ ballot designs are available here.

Find out more about SOMA Action here.

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