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Assemblyman Dan Benson. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Two reform-minded legislators take equivocal stances on county party lines

Benson, Zwicker won’t publicly call for open primaries, unlike Turner

By Joey Fox, January 20 2023 11:18 am

State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) made waves last week when she told the New Jersey Globe that she would support the end of New Jersey’s county organization line system, which allows political parties to give their preferred candidates better spots on primary ballots.

But two of Turner’s most natural reform-minded allies, Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton) and State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), both declined to take such a clear stance when asked yesterday.

“I’m open to improving our ballots – that’s why I’ve sponsored ranked choice voting,” said Benson, who is currently waging a fierce primary contest against Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes. “I think there are other things we have to do to improve engagement. I’m curious to wait and see what [Senator Turner] does in terms of introducing a bill, and I’ll take a look at it.”

Asked directly if he supports the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of organization lines, Benson said he’s “just waiting to see how the court case resolves.”

Zwicker is also waiting on the results of the case before he makes any declarations; “I think saying anything until that lawsuit comes to a conclusion is premature,” he said.

Turner, Benson, Zwicker, and Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Paterson) were the four victorious legislative candidates endorsed in 2021 by the Good Government Coalition of New Jersey, an endorsement that came with a commitment to reform the state’s ballot design. In their candidate questionnaires, Turner and Sumter both indicated clear support for ending organization lines, while Benson and Zwicker took more restrained stances.

Of course, even if all four began agitating for legislation banning county lines, it wouldn’t make much of a difference; the vast majority of New Jersey politicians remain committed to the county line system, which is what they’ve campaigned under for their entire careers. (Turner, Benson, Zwicker, and Sumter have all run with the support of their county Democratic parties for years or decades, so they’re no exceptions.)

As both Benson and Zwicker alluded to, the real way the county line would fall is through the ongoing federal court case; it’s not clear when that case will be resolved, but anti-line activists are optimistic that the ultimate ruling will be in their favor.

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