Andy Kim still wants to end New Jersey’s ballot design even as he stands to benefit from it

A lawsuit to abolish “the line” will go forward.

Democratic Rep. Andy Kim said Sunday night that he plans to take the favorable position on Senate primary ballots in parts of the state that he had criticized first lady Tammy Murphy for during the Democratic primary.

But if he has his way in court, that benefit would go away.

In an online press conference after Murphy ended her Senate bid, Kim said he intends to keep pushing to abolish what’s known in New Jersey as “the line,” in which candidates backed by county party organizations appear on a row or column, giving them a large advantage.

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“This is not a system I want to participate in,” he told reporters. “I think it’s unfair. That’s why I’m trying to change it.”

However, Kim confirmed that he met with Democratic county chairs in the state that initially backed Murphy and said that he would accept the so-called county lines there.

“They did ask if I would sub in if Tammy Murphy were to make that decision not to run, so I agreed to do so,” he said.

Murphy’s exit Sunday makes Kim the favorite to win the Democratic nomination for Senate in New Jersey. He is seeking to replace indicted Sen. Bob Menendez. Should Kim win the nomination, he would be heavily favored to win the general election since New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate in 50 years.

Murphy entered the race in November with the backing of a handful Democratic party leaders, which meant that she would have had the favorable ballot placement in a majority of the state.

Accepting the county lines across the state puts Kim in a politically awkward position since a cornerstone of his campaign was seeking to abolish the state’s unique primary ballot design. He filed a lawsuit in February seeking a preliminary injunction to eliminate the controversial ballot design in the June primary. Kim said that he still supports those legal efforts, even as he stands to benefit from the county line. He will not give up the favorable ballot positioning as he faces two other opponents in the Democratic primary, Patricia Campos-Medina and Lawrence Hamm.

Kim is instead seeking an office block ballot for the June primary, where candidates are grouped together by the office they are seeking rather than by who is backed by political parties. It is unclear how Murphy dropping out of the Senate race will impact the legal challenge, although there are also two co-plaintiffs who are seeking House seats.

“Regardless, I will just continue to be an advocate for us to be able to change the system and be able to have the office block ballot that I believe are necessary for us to have the kind of fair system that we need and we move away front his unfair, unconstitutional system that we’ve had in the state for too long,” Kim said.

Attorneys for Kim and the two other plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the county line — House candidates Sarah Schoengood and Carolyn Rush — said in a statement Sunday that the preliminary injunction request would move forward. Kim is suing 19 county clerks in the state that use the county line ballot design (two counties in the state do not use it).

“The clerks’ county line primary ballots continue to violate constitutional rights of all three candidates who are suing, as well as the voters’ rights,” attorneys Brett Pugach, Flavio L. Komuves and Yael Bromberg said in a joint statement. “New Jersey cannot tolerate one more unconstitutional election.”

A judge’s ruling could come as soon as this week.

Kim said he briefly spoke with Murphy on Sunday. He also said that he was not asked about his lawsuit and that there was nothing asked of him in exchange for getting the support that would have gone to Murphy.

“It was very quick but no other exchange, no other talks about anything,” Kim said.

Much of the conversation around the Democratic Senate primary had been focused on the county line and its impact on primary elections in New Jersey. Every county party in the state differs in how the favorable ballot positioning is awarded. In some counties a single party boss can deliver the favored ballot positioning while in others hundreds of low-level party officials gather for secret ballot votes to decide on who to endorse.

Murphy’s support from party bosses who were able to award the line in a majority of the state made her the favored candidate by conventional thinking. However, Kim was able to win most county endorsements that were awarded by secret ballot.

Murphy said in a video on social media Sunday that continuing her Senate big would create a “divisive and negative campaign, which I am not willing to do.”

The filing deadline for other candidates to enter the Democratic primary for Senate in New Jersey is Monday.