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Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick.

South Jersey Democrat running for Assembly on Atlantic line backs ballot reform

Caren Fitzpatrick sees ‘benefit’ to open ballot. She said they were ‘more fair’ last year

By Nikita Biryukov, May 24 2021 11:42 am

A county-backed Assembly candidate running in a race that promises to be one of the year’s most competitive contests supports eliminating organizational lines.

Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick, a Democrat, told the Good Government Coalition of New Jersey she supported eliminating organizational lines, a move long sought by progressives who charge the practice protects incumbents and tamps down on primary challenges.

“I have benefited from the county line ballot, but do see the benefit to an open ballot,” Fitzpatrick told the coalition, which is made up of progressive groups who oppose the line.

During her campaign for Atlantic County Commission last year, Fitzpatrick told the commission ballots without a line were “more fair,” though this year she added that county organization endorsements should be considered.

She also backed a series of electoral reforms, including public funding of all state-level elections, a fulltime legislature and a requirement that bills be posted at least 72 hours before seeing a vote.

The coalition has endorsed Fitzpatrick in her bid for the seat held by Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield), who is running for State Senate. State Sen. Chris Brown (R-Ventnor City) is not seeking re-election.

Mazzeo and Assemblyman John Armato (D-Buena), Fitzpatrick’s running mates, have not been endorsed by the coalition.

Fitzpatrick’s support for an end to the county line is a break with South Jersey Democrats backing her bid for state office. The commissioner faces no primary challenge. It’s not clear that would have been the case absent her position on the Atlantic County line or a wave of endorsements from top New Jersey Democrats.

Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Voorhees) endorsed Fitzpatrick less than two weeks after she launched her Assembly campaign in March.

Party leaders have resisted progressive calls to do away with the line for years. It’s a rule unique to New Jersey that allows county party organizations to place preferred candidates in a single column.

Fitzpatrick’s name, for example, will appear below Murphy’s on ballots for the June 8 primary.

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