New Jersey's unusual primary ballot design may be questioned by lawsuit court.

Trenton  — A federal judge questioned New Jersey's unique primary ballot drawing mechanism Monday as he reviewed a legal challenge claiming it benefits establishment party candidates. A day after the state attorney general declared the longstanding system unlawful, the Trenton federal court hearing took place Monday.

Democratic Rep. Andy Kim and others sued to overturn the state's county line primary ballot design. The outcome may influence whether that ballot design is used in a contentious June 4 Democratic Senate primary between Kim and first lady Tammy Murphy. New Jersey, unlike other states, groups candidates with the same party slogan, generally with county party support in first place.

The day after U.S. Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted on federal bribery charges last September, Kim declared his campaign against the first lady. Murphy, the wife of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, ran for office for the first time in November.

Although Menendez hasn't stated his plans, many Democrats have called for his resignation. He denies guilt and will fight the charges. After Murphy entered the contest, party officials in Bergen and Essex supported her, signaling she would win the county line.

Tammy Murphy says she's competing in the state system. Kim called for the elimination of the system, which influential progressive factions in the state despise.

Monday was reserved for U.S. District Court Judge Zahid Quraishi to decide on an emergency injunction to abolish the county line system. The primary filing deadline is March 25, and he told defendants' attorneys in court that he would move quickly “so you can force the court to be able to say, ‘It's too late, Judge’.”

He allowed counsel until later in the week to respond to the attorney general's remarks, but his ruling is unclear. He sometimes seemed wary of the defendants' attorneys, most of the state's county clerks who design and manage ballots. He replied tersely to a defendant's attorney who claimed the system was 100 years old. “This court will not accept the argument that because we’ve always done it this way is how it should be done,” he stated.

When an attorney for the defendants claimed political parties can collaborate and endorse candidates, Quraishi asked. William Tambussi, the attorney, said the law allowed party slogans on the ballot.

Three-term congressman Kim watched hours of testimony and cross-examination of an elections expert his attorneys summoned before testifying. When considering a 2018 bid for government, he was warned that getting the county line was “seen as very much determinative of if I would be successful.”

Kim expressed concern about the arrangement, saying he did not always know all his ballot bracketed candidates. The defendants contended there wasn't enough time to revamp the ballots in time for the primary, and their attorneys criticized Kim's elections expert as inexperienced in New Jersey.

A day before the testimony, Attorney General Matt Platkin sent the judge a letter declaring the state's primary ballot system “unconstitutional” and refusing to defend it. Quraishi was annoyed by the letter and wasn't sure if he should consider it. He said that the attorney general may have declined to intervene.

He’s lobbing his opinion from the cheap seats,” the judge said. He's absent today.” The AG's office wouldn't comment beyond Platkin's letter. Two dozen protestors held “abolish the line” placards and shouted, “This is what democracy looks like.” outside the courthouse.

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