Rob Andrews wants to render Frank Lautenberg’s county line advantage obsolete.
Andrews announced today that he’s filing suit against 13 mostly northern county clerks to seek a “fair and open Democratic primary” that requires county clerks give “fair and equal” ballot position to both U.S. Senate candidates at the State Superior Court. The challenge was first reported on the liberal Web site Blue Jersey.
While Andrews has the county line in seven southern counties, Lautenberg has the line in the 12 other counties that award it — a big advantage in a primary with an expected low turnout.
Andrews cited a state statute, N.J.S.A. 19:23-26.1, that says primary candidates for Senate or Governor must appear in the first column and apart from candidates for lower offices.
Reads the law: “In the case of a primary election for the nomination of a candidate for the office of United States Senator and in the case of a primary election for the nomination of a candidate for the office of Governor, the names of all candidates for the office of United States Senator or Governor shall be printed on the official primary ballot in the first column or horizontal row designated for the party of those candidates.”
If the court rules in his favor, it will force county clerks to give both candidates to ballot position on the first column, even if they’re not bracketed with Congressional and county-wide candidates.
Andrews is afraid that northern county chairmen will ask clerks to banish him into the nether regions of the ballot.
"Unfortunately, some of the county leaders have attempted to exercise their undue influence to have my name placed in the Siberian portion of the ballot in violation of the clear and unambiguous language of the statute," Andrews said. "We are committed to a process that gives voters the best opportunity to choose among all the candidates. The statute is clear. Adhering to the process set down by state law would give voters what they are entitled to – an open primary."
Lautenberg spokeswoman Julie Roginsky said that Andrews had not problems with the bracketing system until it worked against him.
"This lawsuit smacks of hypocrisy and desperation," said Roginsky. "When he was a failed candidate for Governor, he happily accepted bracketing in any county he could find….Most remarkably, Congressman Andrews is bringing lawsuits only in the counties he couldn't win. It is clear the Congressman wants a new set of rules for himself and another for everyone else."
Andrews spokesman Bill Caruso said that, while south Jersey county clerks aren't named in the suit, the same principle should be applied to all 21 counties.