SOMA Action Echoes Maplewood Dems in Calling for County Convention, Ballot Reform

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Earlier this month, the Maplewood Democratic Committee passed resolutions in support of office block ballot design for Maplewood for all elected offices, as well as supporting a County Democratic Convention to vote for the endorsement of candidates. The action followed a decision by the MDC in February 2022 to do away with the “county line” for local primary elections. Although the initial vote was for a one-year pilot, the MDC has since amended its bylaws to make the change permanent. The county line has proven to provide an almost insurmountable advantage to candidates placed there and is currently the subject of multiple lawsuits, including one by U.S. Senate candidate Andy Kim.

SOMA Action, a local political action group, is now also asking Essex County Democratic Chair LeRoy Jones to “immediately convene a County Democratic Convention and adopt Office Block Ballots for the 2024 June Primary Election.”

Read SOMA Action’s full press release and letter to Jones below: 

SOMA Action, a local grassroots group in South Orange and Maplewood, has sent a public letter to Essex County Democratic Party Chair LeRoy Jones calling on him to act now on two groundbreaking resolutions that the Maplewood Democratic Committee passed last week. These resolutions call for (1) convening an Essex County Democratic Party nominating convention for the 2024 June primary election, where all duly elected Democratic Party District Leaders vote by secret ballot to endorse candidates in primary elections; and (2) ask New Jersey County Clerks to design fair ballots, using an “office block” format, for all towns in Essex County for the 2024 primary.

These vital democracy reforms are long overdue. As SOMA Action’s President, Jessica James, says: “By convening an Essex County Democratic Party convention and instituting the ‘office block’ ballot, Essex Democrats will be reaffirming their commitment to democratic principles of fairness and transparency enshrined in the New Jersey Democratic Party Constitution.”

While we welcomed the news last week that Chairman Jones has finally called for ballot reform, and does not oppose an office block ballot, his proposal falls far short of what is needed. Of course, New Jersey needs “ballot uniformity.” But the legislature does not need to “spend the rest of the year working on legislation” when it has already introduced legislation to end the County Line.

Fair Ballot Alliance NJ, a coalition of over 30 grassroots organizations including SOMA Action, has rightly pointed out that the issue in New Jersey is not the lack of ballot uniformity but the undemocratic nature of the party line ballot design. As the NJ county with the most number of registered Democrats, Essex County should lead by example and not delay. The office block ballot is a straightforward reform that has been used for decades without issue by every other state in the country, as well as in NJ’s own Salem and Sussex counties. Essex County can and should adopt these changes immediately, for the 2024 primary election in June.

By immediately convening a party convention, and by adopting fair ballots for the June primary, Chairman Jones will go a long way toward upholding the principles put forth in the New Jersey State Democratic Party’s constitution for the Democratic Party of NJ:

  1. To assure the fair selection of candidates for public offices throughout the state…
  2. To give equal opportunity to all qualified people regardless of race, religion, age, sex, economic status, or any other attribute irrelevant to the right to individual freedom, to participate in all activities carried on by the Democratic Party in New Jersey, including participation as candidates for elective office on all levels.
  3. To take all affirmative actions necessary to insure that all qualified persons are given the equal opportunity for participation, as discussed in paragraph 2 above. 

We call on all Chairman Jones and all Democratic party leaders to uphold these core principles, adopt fair ballots and immediately convene an Essex County convention where Democratic Party leaders can vote by secret ballot. The time for reform is NOW.


SOMA Action letter to LeRoy Jones:

March 19, 2024

To: LeRoy Jones, Chairman, Essex County Democratic Committee and Chairman, New Jersey Democratic Party

From: SOMA Action

Subject: Urgent Call for an Immediate Democratic Party Convention in Essex County for a Fair and Open Endorsement Process

Dear Chairman Jones,

We, the members of SOMA Action, a citizen group based in South Orange and Maplewood, were delighted to read your statement supporting ballot reform, and specifically that you are “not opposed to office block ballots.” We also believe that ballot reform in NJ is necessary. However, we believe your decision to identify ballot uniformity as the central problem is misguided. Of course we need “uniform ballots.” But what NJ voters need the most, and are entitled to under the US Constitution, are fair ballots. We don’t need to wait until the legislature “studies” the problem. The problem is well-documented and, as you know, is the subject of several pending federal lawsuits

The Democratic Party should ask County Clerks across the state to issue primary ballots with office block design for the 2024 primary election. Also, in Essex County, there should be a fair, democratic, county convention at which elected Democratic Committee members vote by secret ballot to endorse primary candidates. In short, we need to do what the Maplewood Democratic Committee just this week called for in two groundbreaking resolutions

These reforms are critical to democracy in our county and in our state. It’s time for New Jersey to stop being an outlier. 

In 2024, democracy itself is on the ballot. We urge you, Mr. Chairman, to join in this fight by helping to make Essex County democratic. We need fair ballots and an open, transparent process for endorsing primary candidates now. 


The Members of SOMA Action
South Orange-Maplewood, NJ

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