Last night, with only two votes in favor and four abstentions, the city council approved a resolution supporting a change in the way candidates for office are listed on the ballot. Sponsored by Ward E Councilman James Solomon, the resolution calls for “the elimination of rows, line and columns” that research shows tend to advantage party favorites at the expense of independent candidates.
In a 2020 paper, Rutgers University Associate Professor Julia Sass Rubin found that under the current system, candidates placed in the coveted “county line” or “party line” have an automatic advantage over those who don’t “regardless of the office being sought.” In order to receive such ballot placement, the candidate must be approved by the mayor and party chairperson, in the case of Jersey City, Mayor Steven Fulop and Hudson County Democratic Party Chairperson Amy DeGise.
In January, a coalition of progressive organizations and candidates filed a lawsuit which claims that the current ballot design process violates several constitutional rights, including freedom of association and equal protection.
Team Fulop members Mira Prinz-Arey, Yousef Saleh, Daniel Rivera and Richard Boggiano abstained, making approval of the resolution possible with only the affirmative votes of Solomon and Councilman Rolando Lavarro. Council President Joyce Watterman, Councilwoman Denise Ridley, and Councilman Jermaine Robinson were absent.
Saleh asked “what is the line going to be replaced with?” Both Saleh and Rivera objected to the resolution’s mentioning of Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis’s recent announcement that Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti would be removed from the party line in the June 8th primary in favor of a William Sampson IV.
Said Solomon, “At the end of the day, voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around. And the line provides such a strong advantage to the party machine across the whole state that it really undermines the core idea of democracy.”
The resolution had overwhelming support from public speakers. Mark Devins noted the many great musicians produced by New Jersey but complained that “our ballot design is not something worth celebrating.”
There was more debate from the public on an emergency resolution imposing a rent increase freeze on regulated apartments, excluding owner-occupied homes with 2 to 4 units, and prohibiting the collection of penalties for late rent payments.
Yvonne Balcer called the measure “nothing but socialism.” “Where is my tax freeze?” she asked.
Ron Simoncini of the Jersey City Property Owner’s Association complained that the council had not studied who needed relief from rent increases and late penalties. “We see that many people people who are on unemployment received greater benefits than they got as wages when they worked.” He claimed that many people who had kept their jobs had stopped paying rent because “there is no threat of eviction.”
The majority of speakers, however, sided with the ordinance. Eleana Little offered that “to abandon our most vulnerable residents at this time and exacerbate the problem would be a moral failure.”
The council approved the ordinance 6-0.