Here’s where Andy Kim now has the county line he’s railing against in the NJ Senate race

U.S. Senate race front-runner Andy Kim is now slated to get preferential treatment on the primary ballots available to nearly 70% of New Jersey’s registered Democrats under the state’s unusual county line system.

That number could grow in the ongoing aftermath of first lady Tammy Murphy’s abrupt departure from the race Sunday night. The Kim campaign is continuing talks with Democratic county committees that award the ballot placement, which is used by New Jersey’s political party organizations to sway votes in favor of their endorsed candidates. Kim has agreed to accept the endorsements from several of the committees that were previously set to endorse Murphy, even as he continues his lawsuit to end the county line system, which he argues is an undemocratic and unconstitutional way for party bosses to fix elections.

In a letter to the court, Kim’s attorneys said he’s currently set to be on the county line 13 of the 19 New Jersey counties that use this system. County line ballots group all of the party-endorsed candidates for every office in a single row or column, which gives them a perceived legitimacy and often leads voters to tick off every box in the line, according to researchers. New Jersey is the only state with such a system.

Kim’s newly slated to appear on the county line in Essex, Hudson, Passaic, Somerset and Bergen counties, which were all previously set to give Murphy the line. Kim had already won convention votes to appear on the Atlantic, Burlington, Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Somerset and Warren county lines.

Kim’s attorneys wrote that no agreements have been made even although “there has been some preliminary discussion” about the line in Cape May, Gloucester, Middlesex, and Union counties. Cape May Democrats previously declined to award the county line at all after holding a convention earlier this month. The other counties were set to award it to Murphy.

There have been no such discussions in Camden and Cumberland counties, according to Kim’s attorneys. Camden’s committee previously awarded the line to Murphy after shutting another candidate who tried to attend its convention out of the building. Feuding political organizations are mired in a dispute over which gets to award the county line in Cumberland, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

Murphy was previously slated to be placed on the line in ballots used by about two-thirds of New Jersey Democrats. In many of the state’s largest and most Democrat-rich counties, that was decided by party chairs directly, without any vote at county conventions.

Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer told Gothamist earlier this week that Murphy met with several Democratic Party chairs on Sunday at the office of Newark attorney Angelo Genova, where she informed them that she was dropping out of the race. The chairs then called Kim, who informed them that he would accept their endorsement and placement on the line in their counties. Genova is also representing several of the county clerks who seek to preserve the line and were named as defendants in the lawsuit, but Shaffer said he was mostly there in order to advise on shifting endorsements from Murphy to Kim.

In a call with reporters on Sunday night, Kim confirmed he’d accepted the chairs’ offers.

“Well, [what] I said in the courtroom, when asked about this exact situation is, ‘Look, like if I don’t take lines, it gives me a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “And you know, that’s just the system as it is. So I feel, as I said, this is not a system I want to participate in. I think it’s unfair and that’s why I’m trying to change it.”

Kim is facing criticism from some of the people he’s counted as allies in the fight against the line, now that those party bosses who dictate the ballot placement have given him the very advantage he’s set out to end.

In a letter to the court this week by her attorney, fellow Senate candidate Patricia Campos-Medina said she’s “even more harmed today” than before Murphy dropped out of the race. She wrote that Kim’s acceptance of the lines leaves her and any other Senate candidate “without an opportunity to compete for them.”

Campos-Medina is not a party to the lawsuit, but said she’d previously believed Kim represented their shared interests in ending the county line system.

“Any semblance of due process has gone out the window,” Campos-Medina’s attorney wrote.

Judge Zahid Quraishi requested Kim’s filing that describes where he has accepted the line after one of the clerks’ attorneys told the court Murphy’s departure from the race meant a “paradigm shift in the election” that “drastically changes the relevant analysis of irreparable harm” in the case. Attorney Mark Natale, representing the Burlington County clerk, wrote the clerks “are now prejudiced without the ability to supplement the record” to fit the new development.

Quraishi met with the parties for an emergency status conference on Tuesday. He asked the defendants to file a joint letter on any effects Murphy’s departure would have on the case by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

Kim’s attorneys also represent two more plaintiffs in the lawsuit — South Jersey congressional candidates Sarah Schoengood and Carolyn Rush, whose districts span multiple counties. Schoengood said she’s chosen not to bracket and appear on a shared line with any other candidates. Rush said she’s requested to be on a shared line for all congressional candidates being used in some counties, and her opponent has already been selected to get the county line in some others.

Yael Bromberg, an attorney representing Kim and the other plaintiffs, told Gothamist after the status conference that they “vigorously dispute” that Murphy’s exit changes the case. She reiterated their stance that the line’s “unconstitutional” nature continues to harm Kim and the other plaintiffs – as well as New Jersey voters.

“There’s no paradigm shift. The case is still very live,” Bromberg said, adding that Natale’s letter is “just another way for the defense to delay the inevitable here.”

She said she expects the judge to rule soon.

The Senate candidates are running to replaced incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez, who is fighting an incitement on federal corruption charges. Menendez said last week he’s “hopeful” to run as an independent later this year.

Hotel entrepreneur Curtis Bashaw, Mendham Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner and Tabernacle resident Justin Murphy will compete in this year’s Republican primary.

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