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Gloucester County Clerk James Hogan conducts a ballot drawing for the 2021 general election. (Photo: Gloucester County Clerk's office via Facebook).

What’s at stake in New Jersey’s ballot draw

Drawings in Gloucester, Morris could have major consequences

By Joey Fox, April 05 2023 5:06 pm

Tomorrow, New Jersey will celebrate its most obscure yet consequential holiday: ballot drawing day, when county clerks conduct lotteries to determine the layout of primary ballots.

Every slate that includes a contingent of county commissioner candidates has the ability to get Column A (or Line A), the leftmost (or topmost) spot on the ballot. If there is more than one slate that meets that requirement, the county clerk will conduct a theoretically random drawing to determine their order – “theoretically,” because some county clerks have a magical ability to pick the county organization slate first every time.

Once those slates have been placed on the ballot, the clerk will then place any remaining candidates not affiliated with county commissioner candidates in progressively farther out columns.

Individual clerks have discretion over certain choices, such as what constitutes a slate of county commissioners – is only one necessary, or does every available slot need to be filled? There’s also disagreement on whether unrelated candidates should be placed in the same slate, or spread out across the ballot.

This may all sound trivial, but the outcome of a ballot drawing can sometimes have huge effects on a race. Under certain circumstances, off-the-line slates who get good ballot positioning can nullify the advantages provided by the organizational line, allowing insurgent candidates to pull off upset victories.

That’s what appeared to happen, for example, in the 2022 Republican congressional primary in Bergen County. 

Nick de Gregorio had the Bergen GOP line for the 5th congressional district, but his opponent, Frank Pallotta, recruited a slate of county-level challengers and managed to get Column A. Running under the “Bergen County Republicans” slogan, Pallotta’s slate essentially looked like it was the party-backed ticket in many towns, and he was nearly able to carry Bergen off-the-line while winning the primary 50%-46% overall.

Ballot drawings in several counties tomorrow could have similarly significant consequences. Off-the-line slates in Gloucester and Morris Counties in particular will be vying for ballot positioning that would give them an early leg up in highly competitive contests.

The New Jersey Globe can’t predict what the results of the drawings will be – that’s up to the county clerks and to fate. But as clerks ready their arms, golden or no, it’s worth laying out who’s running and what the potential outcomes may be.


The county with the highest-stakes draw tomorrow is undoubtedly Gloucester, where the rivalry between State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan) and Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R-Woolwich) has evolved into a battle over the future of the Gloucester GOP.

Durr and Gloucester County Commissioner Nick DeSilvio (R-Franklin) are leading the Republican organization’s ticket; they’re running with full Assembly slates, county commissioner candidates Frank Fisher, Brooke Rivello, and Erik Anderson, and former East Greenwich Township Committeeman Stephen Bottiglieri, who has the GOP line for county surrogate.

Opposing them are Sawyer and former Washington Township Councilman Christopher Del Borrello, who also have full slates running alongside them (with the exception of one Assembly slot on Sawyer’s ticket). East Greenwich Councilman James Philbin, former Harrison Township Committeeman Adam Wingate, and Franklin Deputy Mayor Heather Flaim are running for commissioner, and Woolwich Mayor Sam Maccarone for surrogate.

Gloucester Republicans have been ascendant in recent election years, shockingly winning the 3rd legislative district and several county offices in 2021. But they don’t have the kind of institutional heft that other, more established county parties do, so their ability to get their preferred candidates through a primary is unknown.

That’s what makes the ballot draw so important. The two slates’ slogans are virtually indistinguishable: “Regular Organization Republican” for the county-line candidates, “Gloucester County Regular Republican Party” for the off-the line candidates.

The outcome of the ballot draw will essentially determine which slate looks like it’s got the Gloucester GOP’s backing, which will be critical for voters who don’t know much about any of the candidates running. Durr has a brand at this point as an underdog MAGA warrior, but everyone else on both slates have a lot of work to do to establish themselves.

And unlike in other counties, the outcome could have significant general election consequences. The 3rd and 4th districts are both likely to host expensive and competitive races this year, as is Gloucester County itself, where control of the board of commissioners could flip if Republicans can win at least two Democratic-held commissioner seats.

Speaking of Democrats, they’ll also have a ballot drawing in Gloucester County tomorrow. Former Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro) has the party line for the Senate in the 3rd district, but he faces a progressive challenge from Mario De Santis, who has gathered a full ticket in Gloucester County.

That includes three county commissioner candidates – Denise Brush, Everet Rummel, and Ted Howell – to run against incumbent Commissioner Jim Jefferson, Washington Township Mayor Joann Gattinelli, and Pitman Councilman Matthew Weng. De Santis’ team thus has a chance of getting the top spot against the South Jersey Democratic machine, which would be an auspicious start for their underdog campaign.


At the Morris Republican convention last month, seven candidates failed to get the party line, nearly all of them running separate campaigns from one another. Two of those seven have since dropped out, but the others have joined together on a slate that will give the relatively new Morris GOP organizational line another serious test.

In the 26th district, Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo (R-Montville) is running off-the-line against State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville); he has joined forces with former Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) and former Parsippany Councilman Robert Peluso. Over in the 24th district, there’s no Senate candidate, but Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski (R-Independence) and Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens are running for two Assembly seats.

Linking them all together is Paul DeGroot, who’s taking on County Commissioner Tayfun Selen (R-Chatham). DeGroot, who had previously said he wouldn’t run with anyone else, gives his five new running mates the chance to earn the top ballot position against the party-backed candidates.

A third slate consisting of two political unknowns – commissioner candidate Robert Snyder and county clerk candidate Andrew Agliata – filed at the last minute, and they in theory had just as good of a chance of getting Column A. But their petitions were rejected due to issues with their circulators.

A hearing on whether they can be put back onto the ballot is currently scheduled for April 28, a full six days after county clerks are required to begin sending out vote-by-mail ballots.


Camden County progressives are running two county commissioner candidates, one of whom, Kate Delany, is a former Collingswood Democratic municipal chair and a leader of the local resistance to the South Jersey Democratic machine.

Delany and her running mate, Sam Sweet, are running against incumbent Commissioners Louis Cappelli and Jonathan Young. There’s also an off-the-line slate running for local office in the city of Camden, though it’s not clear whether they’ll be bracketed with Delany and Sweet and thus get the chance to have prime ballot positioning.

Camden Republicans were going to have a contested primary as well, with similar dynamics as in Gloucester County, but that was forestalled when the county GOP switched its State Senate endorsement from DeSilvio to Del Borrello at the last minute.

Del Borrello will run with the organizational candidates for county commissioner, Jason Fanning and Norman Rebel, while his original running mates have dropped out of the race. DeSilvio will go without a full slate, preventing him from competing for the top ballot spot.


Much like in Camden County, progressives in Hudson County frequently make attempts to break through the county Democratic organization stronghold, and this year is no different. They’re running Eleana Little for county executive, two legislative candidates in the 31st district, and six county commissioner candidates: TJ Senger, Adrian Ghainda, Mamta Singh, Ron Bautista, Alex Valdez, and Stephanie Martinez.

None are likely to win, but getting Line A would certainly be a good start; since Hudson elects its commissioners by district, it’s at least conceivable that a well-run Line A campaign could give the county organization a real challenge in the more progressive parts of the county.


Tomorrow’s ballot drawing will apply to all of Union County, but it will only really matter in one town: Roselle.

Former Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle) is running off-the-line to regain his old post as Roselle mayor, and he’s recruited an entire slate of county commissioner and state legislative candidates to run with him on the “I Am You Union County Democrats” slate.

If Holley, who remains well-known in Roselle, gets the top ballot position, that would put him in a strong position to potentially unseat incumbent Mayor Donald Shaw. Outside of Roselle, though, the design of the ballot won’t matter much; the Union County Democratic organization is perfectly capable of dispatching Holley’s allies countywide and in the 20th legislative district.


In next-door Middlesex County, a number of different candidates are running off the Democratic line – but none of them thought to team up with one another.

The ballot drawing for Column A will be between the county organization slate and two commissioner candidates, Lawrence Zee Liu and Frances Bustos-Santiago, who are waging a lonely campaign against incumbents Leslie Koppel and Charles Tomaro.

Column C will feature two obscure State Senate candidates, Christopher Binetti and Michelle Burwell. And finally, Column D will be home to off-the-line candidates in Edison, where a factional war is playing out between the mayor and Democratic municipal chair.

In some counties, the three sets of off-the-line candidates might be combined into one column running on different slogans. That’s not the way Middlesex County does it, though, so prepare to see some splintered Democratic primary ballots.


Essex County won’t hold a ballot draw at all this year, but it’s worth explaining why.

State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair), who was booted off the county line after being double-bunked with State Sen./former Gov Richard Codey (D-Roseland), is running with two Assembly candidates and one at-large Essex county commissioner candidate, Justin Harris.

Gill’s commissoner slate isn’t full enough, however, for her to be in contention for the top ballot spot, which will go to the organization line. The ballot order is already set in stone: Codey in Line A, Gill in Line B, and former Assemblyman Craig Stanley by himself in Line C.

Unlike Middlesex, Essex County combines unrelated slates in the same column if there are gaps, which means Harris will be conjoined in the 28th district with former Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee, who’s running off the line for an Assembly seat.

Salem & Sussex

And then there are Salem and Sussex Counties, two counties which don’t have organizational lines at all. 

The stakes there are different; instead of rival slates duking it out for Column A, tomorrow’s ballot draw will involve every candidate competing for a higher spot on the list of candidates, which will be grouped by office. That won’t matter all that much in two-candidate races, but in more crowded contests it could be important.

In 2022, when the 7th congressional district hosted a seven-way Republican primary, Phil Rizzo’s name was listed first on Sussex County ballots, while frontrunner and now-Rep. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) ended up way down in sixth. Probably in part because of that random luck, Rizzo ended up carrying Sussex County even as every other county in the district, all of which gave Kean their party line, went for Kean.

The 3rd district in Salem County and the 24th district in Sussex County, as well as a three-way race for Sussex County Commissioner, might be affected by similar dynamics this year. When the county clerk decides whose name will top the list for each seat, they’ll be conferring a small advantage that could be critical in a tight race.

This story was updated at 10:23 p.m. with a correction: the off-the-line Republican commissioner candidates in Camden County have dropped out of the race, meaning that there will be no ballot draw and 4th district Senate candidate Christopher Del Borrello will get the top spot. It was updated again at 2:24 p.m. on April 6 with the update that Andrew Agliata and Robert Snyder have been tossed from the ballot.

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