To the Editor:
New Jersey is held back from achieving its democratic potential by a ballot gimmick that gives political party bosses too much control over the nominating process. The gimmick, known as the ballot line, needs to be abolished.
The ballot line lets political party insiders decide who gets an advantageous ballot position. Their preferred candidates – those expected to do the bidding of big donors – are placed in a line alongside other big party names on the left of the ballot. The rest are placed to the far right in positions that do not look as legitimate. As a result, incumbents stand no chance of losing their party nomination. This interferes with the democratic process.
Imagine you decided to run for Congress because you felt you represented the most vulnerable people in your district and because you knew you could move the dial on some of the biggest issues of the day.
Imagine you had nearly a decade’s worth of experience working on Capitol Hill for such towering figures as the late Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings and your home state representative Sen. Booker, as well as administrative and campaign experience working for President Obama’s administration and reelection campaign, and knew how to get things done in Washington, D.C.
Imagine inspiring underserved people in your district with your story of growing up in a single-mom household. Imagine being a candidate who knows what it is like to have grown up in poverty and even experienced homelessness. Imagine being able to speak to the issue of police brutality based on personal experiences.
Then imagine your own political party shutting you out of the political process. Imagine being totally disregarded by people who see themselves and their preferences, and the preferences of monied interests, as more important than the electorate.
Imagine being told you are not right for representing your own district. Imagine seeing your name get placed on the ballot in a disadvantageous position to prevent any possible chance of victory.
That is exactly what happened to me.
I ran for office motivated to make a difference. I felt my background overcoming struggle, a story all too familiar for working families in South Jersey, in particular, lent legitimacy and authenticity to my candidacy. I was intent on being an advocate for families who do not get the attention they deserve.
When Frank LoBiondo retired in 2018, the time was right. While Jeff Van Drew was my state rep growing up, he did not truly represent the people who most suffered in his district. He voted against a minimum wage increase. He regularly voted against my interests and my family’s interests. I did not have confidence that he would fight to uplift those who needed support.
Yet, Van Drew, with his appallingly anti-Democratic voting record, was given all the advantages of being placed on the ballot line in 2018, as did his machine successor in the 2020 Democratic primary. It did not matter what he stood for or didn’t stand for. He was the preferred choice of party insiders.
Despite the obstacles, I ran for Congress. I ran feeling that I had a natural base of support among working families, church communities, young people, and people of color, who would potentially turn out in greater numbers seeing themselves reflected at the ballot box.
But the county parties do not allow genuine democratic relationships between candidates and the people to develop. They use the ballot line to hijack the process. The ballot line needs to be eliminated, as New Jersey is the only state that uses it in primary elections.
- WILL CUNNINGHAM