Gov. Phil Murphy and first lady Tammy Murphy helped bring about what looks like the end of New Jersey's unique primary ballot structure, though they did not intend to. (Rich Hundley III/Governor’s Office)

New Jersey’s county boss system got hit right where it hurts this week and there are a lot of people to thank.

I’m thinking of the progressive activists who have spent years shedding light on the design of our primary ballots, which give candidates backed by party bosses an unfair advantage.

Then there’s Rep. Andy Kim, who challenged the county line in court instead of waving the white flag when most of the state’s power brokers tried to coronate his chief rival for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, first lady Tammy Murphy.

And of course there are Kim’s lawyers — Yael Bromberg, Flavio Komuves, and Brett Pugach — a trio whose arguments helped convince U.S. District Judge Zahid Quraishi that the county-line system must be jettisoned for June’s primaries, and potentially forever.

Not to mention Quraishi, whose strong opinion hopefully predates a final order that finishes off the county line once and for good.

Kim certainly knows to spread the credit around.

“This is big,” he told reporters Friday. “I’m proud to have played a role in doing this. I know lots of others have been fighting this fight … well before I have, so I’m grateful for everybody’s part in getting us to this day.”

There is a lot of celebrating from some New Jerseyans, and with good reason: The county line is a blunt tool used by party leaders on both sides of the aisle to keep their rank-and-file in line, punish those who stray, and dissuade anyone with independent thought from even attempting to challenge them.

That’s not to say the county line is solely responsible for our rotten political system. Even without the line, most candidates backed by the bosses will have more cash, higher name recognition, and better get-out-the-vote teams. But even one less tool at the bosses’ disposal is a reason to celebrate. For us at least. The bosses are busy throwing temper tantrums.

Anthony Vainieri, who as Hudson County Democratic chair gave Tammy Murphy the Hudson line based on nothing more than his say-so, griped in a statement that his voters just won’t understand a new ballot. Peg Schaffer — vice chair of the statewide Democratic Party and chair of the Somerset County party — told Politico New Jersey the ruling is “dead wrong.” Schaffer, another one of the chairs who tried to rig the primary for Murphy, bragged recently that the county party helps its members get government jobs and judicial appointments. A real head-scratcher why she would be upset about the current system getting upended.

Our legislative leaders, too, panned the ruling, saying with a straight face that they should be able to deal with this, not the courts. They do not mention that a bill that has floated around the Legislature for years and would reform our ballot system has never won so much as a committee hearing. It was first introduced when George W. Bush was president.

“We remain convinced that if there are Constitutional problems with our balloting process, the Legislature is the appropriate body to remedy those issues. The New Jersey Legislature has a demonstrated track record of working in a bipartisan manner to ensure transparency and public trust in voting, and we look forward to continuing that tradition to ensure public trust in our democratic process,” the four majority and minority leaders of the Legislature state in a statement Friday.

One of the four men is Senate President Nicholas Scutari, who also chairs Union County’s Democratic Party. That group endorsed Tammy Murphy for Senate after a closed-door process where only a handful of party leaders had a say in the endorsement. Union County is also one of the counties that moved to appeal Quraishi’s order in an effort to prevent anyone from removing Scutari’s status as a kingmaker. The legal bill is, of course, getting picked up by Union County taxpayers.

I don’t know whether the clerks’ appeal will be successful in reviving the county line. Here’s hoping the judges on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals see through the patent unfairness of the system the way Quraishi did.

While handing out praise for the folks who helped deliver a near-fatal blow to the county line, I forgot to mention two key individuals: Gov. Phil Murphy and Tammy Murphy. They engaged in a ham-fisted attempt to get her to D.C., failed, and in the process brought us where we are today. So, even though it was by accident, kudos to the Murphys for giving New Jersey’s county boss system what it deserves: a swift kick in the nuts.

Republished courtesy of New Jersey Monitor, which is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Jersey Monitor maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Terrence T. McDonald for questions: [email protected]. Follow New Jersey Monitor on Facebook and Twitter.

New Jersey Monitor Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the...