In a blow to the U.S. Senate campaign of U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1), the appellate division of the state Superior Court today ruled against his appeal for an open primary.
Andrews had hoped that clerks in all of New Jersey's 21 counties would be compelled to situate the three U.S. Senate candidates on ballots that do not give an advantage to the organization choice by allowing him to be bracketed with other organization candidates.
Andrews wanted to be bracketed alone on the primary ballot with U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello.
Failing last week in the chancery division of Superior Court, Andrews’s lawyers yesterday took their case before appellate division judges Ariel Rodriguez, Clarkson Fisher and presiding Judge Edwin Stern.
The judges' ruling enables Lautenberg to mantain his place at the top of the primary ballot in critical northern counties, with key allies, including all of the Democrats in the U.S. Congressional delegation and party picks in Democratic Party strongholds, including Hudson, Bergen, Essex, Union and Middlesex.
"Obviously on the issue of bracketing, he's 0-3," said Lautenberg spokesperson Julie Roginsky, referring to Andrews's previous courtroom efforts.
"We urge them to stop fighting this election in the courts and to start focusing on the real issues that matter to the people of New Jersey," she added.
In what the Andrews campaign argues is a win, the judges did order redrawings in those seven counties where the organization-backed candidate automatically enjoys line A placement.
"We have mixed emotions, but the big one was ballot fairness, and now the clerks have to at least visually put Rob on the same plain with Lautenberg," said Murphy.
Two of those counties are in the south, however, where the South Jersey congressman has the support of county organizations. In a third county, Andrews already occupies line A, meaning that a redrawing simply gives Lautenberg a chance to improve his ballot position.
The bottom line, added Murphy, is that, "Frank Lautenberg has been trying to hide Rob Andrews on the ballot while he hides from debates in Washington, D.C.
"The court is loathe to disturb the political process," Murphy added. "We would have preferred both decisions, but the biggest one is ballot fairness. The one we felt we had a shot on, we were successful on."
Tuesday's decision does not alter the course of the other counties, which already conducted drawings to determine the order of candidates on the ballot, while also allowing the organization candidates to maintain their organizational lines.
The judges ordered that new drawings be conducted in the affected counties no later than noontime, May 1; the ballots in those counties should be redesigned immediately thereafter and forwarded to the printers without undue delay, the judges ordered.
"Because we view the primary in question as a ‘typical election’ requiring the equal treatment of all senate candidates regardless of bracketing, we are obligated to intervene to ensure the fairness of the Democratic primary and to compel all the county clerks to treat all bracketed and non-bracketed senate candidates in the same fashion," wrote appellate division judges Rodriguez, Fisher and presiding Judge Stern in their decision.
"In those counties where the clerk preferred either bracketed or non-bracketed senate candidates, we direct that new drawings be held with all three senate candidates being included in the drawing."