Picture yourself going to vote. You give your name to the helpful volunteer, you wait until you’re directed to a booth, you step in, and you look at the ballot in front of you. You see each office you’re voting for, with each candidate clearly grouped together under the position they are running for, the big names and the small ones.
Unless you’re in New Jersey.
Look, let’s be honest: my beautiful home state did not earn its reputation for political corruption unfairly. And some of the most corrupt practices are right out in the open, yet operating in secret: New Jersey’s corrupt “ballot line”.
Under the ballot line system, all of the establishment-backed candidates, chosen in advance by the party machine, are listed in one tidy column or row (the line). Candidates not on the line – usually progressive challengers – are found in random places on the ballot in what we call “Ballot Siberia.” The intent of the party bosses is to give an electoral advantage to candidates they’ve backed, which operates as a form of voter deception.
But wait, you ask. How can this pass ethical muster? It’s simple: most voters do not know about the ballot line and the machine is quite satisfied to keep things that way. Party bosses get to pick their preferred winners, more often than not, which means that they can run lackluster candidates who don’t deliver on policy. Control is held by a wealthy and influential core cadre, and corruption reigns.
So what’s a progressive challenger to a corrupt, machine-aligned incumbent supposed to do? Fight back, of course! And I don’t shy away from a fight. We took on the party machine a few months back when they tried to redistrict my small historically-Black neighborhood in Montclair into a majority-white district, instead of keeping it in the historically-Black NJ-10… and we won!
We’re going to do it again with the ballot line by targeting the very heart of its power – its secrecy. We have made messaging on the ballot line a part of the campaign from day 1: talking to voters about why it matters and how we can defeat it, and tying it to the national conversation of voting rights and access. It’s been a source of media attention, but it’s also an important discussion on the doors. New Jerseyans know that the party machine is trying to pull one over on us, and they’re looking for alternatives.
And we’re giving them one. We’re hitting the pavement and talking to constituents everywhere in NJ-10. In the thousands of conversations we’ve had at the doors (distanced, of course!) and on the phones, we’re discovering exactly how disconnected voters feel from the process. The most common initial response is simply shock. Folks in NJ-10 have never had a congressional candidate reach out to them before. Of course they haven’t! The ballot line means that the corrupt party bosses don’t have to really campaign, they simply anoint their winners!
The machine relies on dirty little tricks to hold their power – and the people of New Jersey know it! And we’re excited to do the work that the machine isn’t: talking to the people who make New Jersey great, not kissing up to political insiders that have been exploiting our communities for as long as anyone can remember. Ground game is everything in a campaign like this, and we’re taking ours very seriously.
I’m not daunted, but I do need your help. Wherever you are, you can join us in this fight! Winning this race is very doable and we’re right on target, but because we’ve got this specific obstacle in front of us, we need all the help we can get the word out through canvassing, virtual phone banks, and text banks. You can also support by becoming a contributor. We are fully people funded and your contributions help us fund our field program, literature, and other initiatives that continue to shed light on New Jersey’s corrupt political machine!
Learn more about New Jersey’s corrupt ballot line here: Ballot Line – Oakley for Congress
Video Directed by Richard C. Ledes