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Six county clerks draw top ballot position for other party

Democrats get top line or column in 11 of 21 counties

By Nikita Biryukov, August 13 2019 5:42 pm

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Most of New Jersey’s elected County Clerks followed the time-honored tradition of giving their party the top slot on the November general election ballot, with Democrats coming out on top in 11 of the state’s 21 counties in drawings held on Monday.

Democratic county clerks in Bergen, Cumberland, Gloucester and Middlesex drew the slightly preferential top line or column for Republicans.

In Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt’s home county, Warren County Clerk Holly Mackey, a Republican, drew the top line for the Democrats.  Democrats also took the first line in Republican-controlled Hunterdon County.

In addition to winning the top lines or first columns in Democratic strongholds like Camden, Essex, Hudson, Mercer, Passaic and Union, the party secured preferential positions in Atlantic, Somerset, and Burlington.

Democrats flipped county clerk posts in Somerset in 2017 and in Passaic and Burlington last year.

Republicans get top billing in Cape May, Ocean, Monmouth, Morris, Salem and Sussex.

A preferential ballot position sometimes offers a slight advantage to some candidates, but it’s not likely to have much of an effect in a year like 2019, when turnout is expected to be low and Assembly races are at the top of the ticket.

It is not immediately clear how ballot position affects the exponential increase in vote-by-mail ballots, which could have an outsized influence in a normally low turnout year.

Republicans are competing for a Senate seat and two Assembly seats in the 1st legislative district, where their candidates will have top billing everywhere but three small municipalities in Atlantic County.

In Cumberland County, Republican candidates will run on Column A.  That puts Celeste Riley, the Democratic County Clerk, in Column B as she seeks re-election against Republican Victoria Lods, a former chief of staff to State Sen. Nicholas Asselta (R-Vineland).

Democrats think they can pick up two Assembly seats in the Burlington-based 8th district.  County Clerk Joanne Schwartz, who ousted Republican incumbent Tim Tyler in 2018, drew Democrats to run in Column 1.

Ballot positions for former Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks and former Union County Democratic Chairman Harry P. Pappas, both running as independent conservative candidates in the 21st district Assembly race, were drawn after their major-party opponents in Union, Morris and Somerset Counties.

The Democratic challengers, Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman, are running in Column A in Union and in Column 1 in Somerset.  They will be in Column 2 in Morris, where Republican County Clerk Ann Grossi drew the GOP for the top ballot position.

They’ll appear in the third column in Union and Morris, but it’s not yet clear whether they’ll be relegated to the fourth column in Somerset County.

Marks and Pappas could wind up as spoilers if the race to unseat Republican incumbents Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) is close.

Republicans being drawn first in Middlesex County could be another strike against County Clerk Elaine Flynn, a Democrat who earlier this year had to extend the filing deadline by one day after municipal clerks an incorrect filing deadline for June’s Primary election.

Officially, drawings are conducted randomly, but the practice often appears to produce less-than-random results.

Democrat Nicholas V. Caputo, the Essex County Clerk from 1961 to 1991, was known as the “Man with the Golden Arm” for randomly drawing Line A for Democrats in every primary and general election, save one.  The odds of such a streak had been calculated at 1 in 50 billion.

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