Every candidate who won a congressional seat in New Jersey this year was a Democrat or Republican – no surprises there. But 29 independent and minor party candidates also ran for Congress, combining for 31,949 votes statewide, or 1.26% of the statewide popular vote.
All but one of the state’s 12 congressional districts had at least one independent candidate; the lone exception was the 7th congressional district, where Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) was unseated by Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) in a one-on-one contest. (One left-leaning independent candidate in the 7th district, Veronica Fernandez, dropped out of the race before ballots were printed.)
The best-performing independent candidates were Patricia Kline and Cynthia Johnson, who ran in the 1st and 10th congressional districts, respectively. Each got 1.5% of the vote, though since Kline’s race had higher turnout, she was the state’s top independent vote-getter at 3,265 votes.
But it was the 8th district, where Democrat Rob Menendez was elected to his first term in Congress, that saw the overall highest rate of independent voting. 2.9% of 8th district voters opted for one of five independent candidates, including 0.9% for 2021 Socialist Workers Party gubernatorial nominee Joanne Kuniansky.
It’s possible that the 8th district’s relatively high independent vote rate was due to frustration from some left-leaning voters with Menendez and his father, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez – although it also could just be noise.
In the 11th district, Libertarian candidate Joseph Biasco dropped out three days before Election Day, saying that he didn’t want to split the vote with Republican Paul DeGroot against Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair). But some voters ignored Biasco’s exit, and he got 2,224 votes anyways – the second-highest total of any independent candidate in the state.
Finally, in the 4th district, independent candidate Pam Daniels got a striking endorsement from the LGBTQ group Garden State Equality, which snubbed Democratic nominee Matt Jenkins in his contest against socially conservative Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton).
That endorsement apparently didn’t carry much weight, however; Daniels, who would have been New Jersey’s (and the nation’s) first out transgender congresswoman, got just 425 votes and 0.2%, worse than three other independent candidates on the 4th district ballot.
The 31,949 combined votes independent candidates got is more than the total number of votes cast in Salem or Cumberland Counties, and more than Republican nominees got in the heavily Democratic 8th and 10th congressional districts. But since independent votes were splintered across 11 different districts, they didn’t come anywhere close to impacting the final result in any race.
That’s not always the case. In 2018, Democrat Andy Kim unseated Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) by 3,973 votes while a Constitution Party candidate got 3,902 votes; had the Constitution Party votes gone to MacArthur instead, he would have drawn into a near-tie with Kim.