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Judge Rules against New Jersey Ballot Design

Remember the famous (and very confusing) butterfly ballot used in Florida in 2000, which had thousands of people who hated Pat Buchanan voting for him without realizing it? Here it is as a refresher:

Florida 2000 butterfly ballot

Many Democratic voters saw that the Republicans were listed first in the left hand column and the Democrats were listed second. They wanted to vote for the Democrat, Al Gore, so they punched out the second circle in the middle of the ballot, which we have circled in red. But actually, that was a vote for Pat Buchanan, who most of them despised. The number of people who made this mistake was far more than the 537 votes by which George W. Bush won the state. Thus ballot design swung a presidential election. The article linked in the previous sentence contains a map that proves this beyond any doubt. It shows that Buchanan did vastly better in Palm Beach County, which used the butterfly ballot, than in the adjacent counties, which did not. Also, Buchanan did vastly better on Election Day than with Palm Beach absentee voters, who were not presented with the butterfly ballot.

Since then, most states use a block layout, with one block per office. On top of the block is the name of the office, followed by the names of all the candidates. "Most states" actually means "all states except New Jersey." That state has what is called a "county line ballot." Here is an example of a New Jersey Democratic primary ballot:

Example of New Jersey ballot

The left-hand column lists all the candidates the county Democratic Party leader supports. All the other candidates are randomly spread around the other columns, with different offices mixed at random. Many voters don't understand this and just vote for the county chairman's choices in column 1. This is machine politics at its worst.

On Friday, Federal judge Zahid Quraishi struck down this system and ordered the state to use block ballots for the upcoming Democratic primary. The ruling did not apply to the Republican primary because it was Democrats who brought the lawsuit. This is a huge blow to the power of the party bosses. Boss Tweed is probably rolling over in his grave, even though he wasn't from New Jersey. Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), who is virtually certain to be the next senator from New Jersey, campaigned for this change, although he wanted the legislative branch to do it, not the judicial branch. The party bosses will surely appeal the ruling, but the old-style ballot is hard to defend, especially since no other state uses it.

Until Tammy Murphy dropped out, this was a big issue because, being the governor's wife, she had the support of the party bosses and would be in the favored first column. But Kim had so much grassroots support, Murphy knew she couldn't win and gave up. With a normal ballot, it is a near certainty that Kim will win the Democratic primary and then cruise to election easily. (V)

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