Conforti v Hanlon

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At a Glance

CLC is challenging New Jersey’s misleading ballot design that gives certain candidates a positional advantage and disproportionately burdens voters of color.  

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About this Case

About This Case

New Jersey is the only state in the nation that uses a bracketing system for its ballot design in primary elections: it organizes groupings of candidates in a column or row, rather than listing the office sought followed by a list of each candidate in that race. Candidates who are running for different offices that are in the same bracket are featured together, whereas unbracketed candidates are exiled to separate sections of the ballot.

This bracketing system is flawed for several reasons. First, candidates who are bracketed are given access to more preferable ballot positions – for instance, further to the left or closer to the top. Research has shown that this leads to “position bias” that systematically advantages certain candidates over others. Candidates endorsed by county parties are also frequently bracketed together, disadvantaging other candidates who are either on their own or grouped with another unbracketed candidate. Finally, this design is confusing for voters and often obscures which candidate is running for which office – failing to meet a fundamental objective of good ballot design.

The burdens imposed by this atypical design disproportionately fall on voters of color. Ballot design studies have demonstrated that the poor and racial minorities are the most severely impacted by problems with ballot clarity. Moreover, communities with majority voters of color in New Jersey have witnessed some of the most egregious ballot designs, exacerbating the effects of structural racism.

Several candidates who ran in New Jersey primaries and some who plan to run again in the future are challenging the practice in federal court primarily because of the burden it imposes on candidates.

Our Brief

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) is representing the League of Women Voters of New Jersey (LWVNJ) and Salvation and Social Justice (SandSJ) as amici curiae to represent the voices of harmed voters. CLC and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice have filed a brief in opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss on their behalf.    

Fair and clear ballot designs are vital to a healthy democracy. New Jersey’s misleading ballot design stands in direct opposition to this principle, and reinforces structural obstacles for voters and candidates of color.

CLC’s Clients

LWVNJ is a nonpartisan membership organization that has been dedicated to promoting civic engagement and protecting democracy through advocacy and voter education, assistance, and engagement for over one hundred years.

Founded in 2018, SandSJ is a nonpartisan, statewide racial justice organization in New Jersey. SandSJ has advocated for major voting rights efforts in the state, including restoring the right to vote to all people with criminal convictions, limiting police presence at voting locations, expanding voter access during the pandemic, and other measures to ensure that voters throughout the state, and specifically Black and other voters of color, have meaningful access to the ballot.

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