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The Jersey City Ballot “Bracketing” Challenge is a Publicity Stunt

On November 8, 2011, there will be a special election for two at-large seats on the Jersey City City Council.  There are nineteen candidates for those two seats.  Three teams of candidates have requested to be associated together on the ballot for the special election.  One of the independent candidates has filed court papers objecting to bracketing.  What this candidate may not know is that bracketing is a constitutional right.

Elections in Hudson County have a funny way of way of ending up in the courthouse, and it appears that the November 2011 special election for two at-large seats on the Jersey City CIty Council is going to tread the familiar path up Newark Avenue to the courtroom of the Hudson County Assignment Judge.  On September 22, 2011, the court will hear a request from one council candidate to forbid candidates for the two seats from “bracketing” together on the ballot.  Bracketing is nothing new; indeed, the First Amendment protects bracketing.

What exactly is “bracketing”?

Bracketing is the arrangement of candidates for different offices together in a column or row or group on the ballot.  In general elections, candidates from the same party are grouped together under the Democrat column or the the Republican column or the column of some other party.  There are elections in which candidates are not arranged by party.  Specifically, those elections are primary elections for nomination and non-partisan elections.

By law, Jersey City municipal offices are decided in non-partisan elections.  That is, there is no party label associated with the candidate.  They don’t run as Democrats or Republicans or members of the Green Party.  They run on their own.  When there is more than one office for election, candidates for different offices group together in teams.  Usually, these are candidates who allied politically and/or have common beliefs.  Bracketing has long been the practice in races for at-large seats on the Jersey City City Council.  The candidates for each team who share resources on the street are associated together on the ballot.  Those candidates must notify the Clerk of their desire to bracket together and to share a slogan.  When designing the ballot, the Clerk then groups those two candidates together on the ballot. 

That way, the voters can see from the ballot which candidates are allied.  The voter is still able to cast individual votes for individual candidates.  There is no requirement that a voter vote for both or either of the bracketed candidates. 

One of the nineteen candidates for City Council has challenged the County Clerk’s ruling that allied candidates can bracket together on the ballot.  This candidate’s application will and must fail because the First Amendment protects bracketing.  And this is no secret:  The United States Supreme Court ruled on this issue in 1989.  This is an open-and-shut case.


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