COURT HOUSE - On Jan. 28 in Wildwood, Cape May County Indivisible hosted a 700-person protest in response to the Trump rally.
According to a release, speakers included Martin Luther King III and NJEA President Marie Blistan, as well as many of the Second Congressional District candidates who are competing to challenge Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) for his seat.
At this event, the Indivisible organizers introduced a pledge called Democratize New Jersey. All of the congressional candidates who spoke at the protest committed themselves to ballot reform by signing the pledge: Ashley Bennett, Will Cunningham, Amy Kennedy, and John Francis.
Over this last weekend, a fifth candidate also signed on, Robert Turkavage. The pledge, full text below, calls on candidates to “...call for the end of the county line and to support ballot reform that embraces the spirit of open democracy and Democratic values to compete in a transparent Primary process in which there is no inherent advantage granted to a single candidate through the ballot structure and we engage solely on the merits of our respective experience, platforms, and ability to campaign effectively to win support and invite accountability from our constituents.”
“This pledge calls attention to an anti-Democratic structure unique to New Jersey Primary ballots, by getting candidates to publicly acknowledge the inequity and corruption enabled by the party line.” stated Indivisible organizer Kyle Aldrich.
The current structure enables political bosses, elected and unelected, to maintain tight control over candidates up and down the ballot - running off the line is considered a death sentence.
New Jersey is the only state in the country to feature an exclusive “party line” in primaries which grants an inordinate amount of privilege to those on that line. Grassroots progressive groups like Cape May County Indivisible reject this system and are demanding a more open, transparent, and fair democratic primary process in New Jersey.
“When we talk about ‘machine politics’ in South Jersey - this is at the root of it. This is the exact ballot structure that billionaire party bosses exploit to control our elections,” stated Indivisible organizer Cassandra Gatelein, “The candidates then become indebted to the party bosses, putting their desires before the needs of their constituents. This pledge is about putting power back into the hands of the people.
“With this, grassroots groups and constituents can readily identify which candidates are truly invested in making New Jersey’s electoral process more accessible to ordinary voters. Removing the party line structure of the Primary ballot ensures that campaigns will be focused on the issues that are relevant to those candidates and the offices they seek. New Jersey voters deserve quality candidates who can win on the merits of their platforms, experience, and ability to build relationships with constituents; not candidates who are best at ingratiating themselves to county bosses who control who gets the line.
Getting rid of this structure will eliminate the infamous “ballot Siberia” in which candidates find themselves on distant columns all alone, visually isolated from everything else, or even on a completely separate page on the ballot. With the national spotlight that Trump and Van Drew brought to the race in CD2,
Indivisible organizers see this as an opportunity to educate and raise awareness. “The grassroots progressive movement is on fire. We are energized and we are growing. An increasing number of people are becoming aware of the corrupt machine politics that gave us Van Drew, and they want to know what they can do to change it.” stated Indivisible organizer Shayla Woolfort. “This pledge is only the beginning.” The organizers will now distribute this pledge to partnering grassroots groups in other districts, and to candidates for office at all levels, with the goal that these candidates will sign onto the pledge too. They see this as a growing movement which is building grassroots power to change the system from the ground up.
A Grassroots Progressive Forum, hosted by Cape May County Indivisible, will be held April 1 at 5 p.m., at the Wildwood Crest Library.
Text of the Pledge to Democratize New Jersey: Recognizing that New Jersey is unique among states for its Primary ballot structure featuring party lines defined by coordinated slogans;
Appreciating that the process for assigning the “party line” differs significantly between counties and that many Democratic county organizations assign candidates to the party line through anti-Democratic backroom deals;
Understanding that the result is a process which (1) suppresses the voices of democratically-inclined constituents, (2) gives inherent & disproportionate advantage to candidates on the party line, and (3) cultivates fertile ground for corruption of bosses who seek to preserve, perpetuate, and consolidate their power & influence by requiring candidates to pledge loyalty to those bosses and their desires rather than to their constituents and their needs;
Knowing that this enables a hegemonic and homogenous leadership structure that insulates political leaders, elected and unelected, from accountability to anyone but their bosses;
We, the undersigned, resolve to call for the end of the county line and to support ballot reform that embraces the spirit of open democracy and democratic values to compete in a transparent primary process in which there is no inherent advantage granted to a single candidate through the ballot structure and we engage solely on the merits of our respective experience, platforms, and ability to campaign effectively to win support and invite accountability from our constituents.