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HLS Election Law Clinic Files Brief Supporting Lawsuit Against New Jersey Ballot Design

Langdell Hall is home to the Harvard Law School's library. HLS' Election Law Clinic filed an amicus brief last Tuesday supporting a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey's ballot design.
Langdell Hall is home to the Harvard Law School's library. HLS' Election Law Clinic filed an amicus brief last Tuesday supporting a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey's ballot design. By Julian J. Giordano
By Lola J. DeAscentiis and Catherine H. Feng, Contributing Writers

Harvard Law School’s Election Law Clinic filed an amicus brief last Tuesday in support of a lawsuit brought by Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) against the state of New Jersey’s ballot design.

The lawsuit challenges the state’s primary ballot construction — known as a “county line” ballot — which groups candidates endorsed by county parties with other candidates also receiving endorsement.

According to Harvard Law professor Nicholas O. Stephanopoulos ’01 — who helped file the clinic’s brief — the county line ballot gives “preferential location” to endorsed candidates.

In an interview with The Crimson Monday night, Stephanopoulos called the county line policy “unconstitutional” and “manipulative,” saying it will “induce voters to vote for the county line candidates.”

The brief criticizes the ballot’s design, saying it “massively distorts election results, conferring an enormous advantage to candidates on the line and a nearly insurmountable handicap to all other candidates.” It also calls the design a “national outlier, used by no other state.”

Rachel Simon, a student at the Law School and member of the Election Law Clinic, noted the differences between the New Jersey ballot structure with traditional ballots structures.

“When you compare the most standard or mundane versions of how ballots are ordered — which could be alphabetically, by candidate, etc. — and then you look at what’s happening in New Jersey, you see just how much of an outlier what New Jersey is doing is, compared to all of these other approaches to designing ballots,” Simon said.

The clinic filed the brief days before New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin released legal filings stating that his office would not defend the State’s county organization lines, which he called unconstitutional. Stephanopoulos celebrated the ruling on X, calling Platkin “a democratic Democrat.”

Kim is running against New Jersey First Lady Tammy S. Murphy in the state’s Democratic primary.

According to Stephanopoulos, Murphy’s status as First Lady and ties to the state’s Democratic party gives her an advantage over Kim “in the majority of the more populous counties in New Jersey.”

Simon, citing the Election Law Clinic’s mission, said the brief in support of Kim’s lawsuit was motivated by “fighting for free and fair elections for everybody.”

“There was just something I think that struck me and the clinic as fundamentally unfair about the way that ballots are being ordered through the county line,” Simon said.

Simon added that the clinic’s memorandum offers an opportunity to “elevate an issue that perhaps the actual parties to the case don’t have time to dig into.”

According to Simon, the role of the brief is “to show that New Jersey’s county line approach to ballot ordering goes far beyond in terms of distortive impact.”

“Other courts have been comfortable striking down a whole range of other practices” which have included ballot ordering systems and voter ID laws,” Simon said.

Stephanopoulos identified elimination of what he called an “anomalous, aberrational” county line ballot as the primary goal of the filing.

“The clinic will have been delighted to have played some role in the litigation,” Stephanopoulos said.

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PoliticsHarvard Law SchoolUniversityState PoliticsLawsuits