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Wisniewski Bill Would Amend NJ Primary Election Ballot Order Determination Process

Legislation Would Alter Process for Determining Ballot Positions, Facilitate Competition

Assembly Deputy Speaker John S. Wisniewski has introduced legislation to amend a state statute that dictates how candidates for the presidency, U.S. Senate and the governor’s office appear on primary ballots in New Jersey.

“Voters in a democracy have a reasonable expectation that the elections in which they participate will be fair,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “The intent of this legislation is to keep elections competitive and ensure that no one candidate has an unfair advantage. By allowing all candidates – regardless of their associations with other candidates, or lack thereof – to participate in the ballot drawing process, we can achieve that end.”

Under the bill, during a primary election, starting with the highest ranking office, the county clerk shall conduct a single drawing to determine the placement of names on the ballot, regardless of whether the candidate “brackets,” or chooses to appear on the ballot grouped together with one or more other candidates. Thus once a candidate for the highest office is drawn, all down-ballot candidates eligible to bracket with him or her would be placed on the same line.

The county clerk then would repeat the drawing process for remaining candidates for the next highest office until all candidates for all offices have been placed on the ballot.

“There’s no question that a candidate who’s listed first on a ballot – particularly in a primary election – will be more visible to voters,” said Wisniewski. “Ballot position makes a difference, and our collective interest in a fair democratic process should be the driver for limiting disparities that are directly tied to that factor.”

Under the bill, candidates who wish to be bracketed together may request that their names be placed on the same line of the voting machine with the candidate for the highest office by notifying the county clerk within two days after the petition filing deadline. The county clerk then would notify the campaign manager for the candidate for the highest office among candidates who wish to be bracketed together, and after securing the campaign manager’s permission, place the requesting candidate on the same line as the candidate for the highest office.

Furthermore, under the bill, whenever a primary election ballot includes nominations for a candidate for president, U.S. senator or governor, the candidates must appear in the following order on the ballot: first, choice for president; second, choice for U.S. Senator; and third, choice for governor.