Jim Crow Comes to New Jersey - the Catastrophic Gubernatorial Primary

            On June 6, New Jersey's voters went to the polls to pick a replacement for the hugely unpopular Governor Christopher Christie. Turnout was an anemic 13%.  The turnout in the Democratic primary, where frontrunner Phil Murphy spent over $20 million, (that's $100 per vote) was 24%. The turnout in the Republican primary was 20%.

            Murphy won with 48% of the vote and Guadagno won with 47%. That means the victors won with 12% and 10% of their respective party supporters, or 4.2% and 2.1% of the entire electorate. The remaining 78% of the electorate will get to pick between these two losers in the November General Election. I predict a low, low voter turnout. Why? Because the voter turnout is already low.

            So the question remains of how do the people who run the elections manage to get such a low turnout, and why?

Keeping the Independents Home

            In the days of Jim Crow, legislatures and election administrators passed laws and enforced rules designed deliberately to discourage Black Americans from voting. Violence and threats were used as well. In New Jersey, a white collar version of these threats are designed to keep unaffiliated or independent voters from casting ballots.

            More than 57% of the voters in New Jersey are unaffiliated with either party. Republicans and Democrats combined are less than 43% of the voters. Yet, Republicans and Democrats control 100% of the state and federal elective offices. If independents voted, the two parties might lose their monopoly on political power.

            Unaffiliated voters are permitted to vote in the primaries, but only if they register in the party of the primary in which they want to vote. Once enrolled in a party, the voter can never return to unaffiliated status without allowing their registration to lapse. These strong party rules, as seen, discourages independent voters from casting ballots. Only voters willing to publicly declare their party affiliation, thereby violating the secrecy of the ballot box, are permitted to vote in primaries. New Jersey is a strong party state.

            Another tactic used to discourage independent voter participation is the relentlessly negative campaign debate.


Jim Crow Comes to New Jersey

            In the old South, poll taxes and literacy tests were used to prevent Blacks from voting. In the event that Blacks could afford the tax and read, violence, threats of violence and economic sanctions were used to deprive them of their right to vote.

            New Jersey has created the white collar equivalent of Jim Crow. Mark Twain wrote: "The man who doesn't read has nothing on the man who can't." In New Jersey the voters are literate, but they are not given anything to read about the election.

            In the week before the balloting, polls showed that half the voters had no idea there was an election happening at all. This is because New Jersey is one of only two states, along with Virginia, that has a governor's race this year.

            Furthermore, the coverage of the campaign in the media was so biased that it was hard to tell there was a race at all. Newspaper coverage was limited almost exclusively to the frontrunners: Guadagno, the Lieutenant Governor, and Murphy the multi-millionaire former Goldman Sachs partner. Newspaper articles concentrated on their activities and only incidentally mentioned that they were facing opposition in the primary.

            The Asbury Park Press, the only local daily paper in the 13th legislative district, had zero articles on the Democratic State Senate Primary. Without public information, voters have only the campaign literature on which to base their votes. Validating the legitimacy and accuracy of candidates is a prime function of newspapers and television. When they don't cover the races the people do not vote. Only the party faithful go to the polls. So, less than 7% of the voters selected the Governor. This is hardly more democratic than the way the Communists conducted elections in the Soviet Union. So, is it any wonder New Jersey's credit rating has been downgraded 11 times in the past 7 years? The full faith and credit of New Jersey is not backed by the taxpayers.

How Do You Hide a Governor's Race?

            New Jersey has a public financing provision for Governors' races. It is called public financing, but it is really a publicly financed discount for candidates who already have access to significant private funding. Candidates with little or no money are discriminated against by the public finance provisions.

            In exchange for a 2 for 1 taxpayer supplied subsidy, the candidate must agree to participate in two "sanctioned" debates. In order to qualify for public funds, a candidate needs to raise $400,000 in private donations. Candidates who fail to raise enough money are then prohibited from participating in the sanctioned debates. These provisions not only create a financial qualification for public office, but they are a denial of the first amendment right to petition of the people who signed the nomination papers of the candidates prohibited from appearing in the debate.

            Furthermore, the gubernatorial debate was held virtually in secret. The first debate could only be viewed on-line, with the time slot for each party not determined until the time of the actual event, one at 6:00 p.m. and the other at 7:30, so it was impossible for candidates to tell even their supporters when and where to tune in. The second debate was broadcast only on NJTV, the New Jersey Network, a little watched, mostly public affairs oriented network.

            The debates were not broadcast on the major commercial networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) from New York or Philadelphia, from where most people in New Jersey get their news. Meanwhile, Phil Murphy was advertising on Saturday Night Live.

            What this proves is that the unhappy choice between Clinton and Trump last November was not an aberration. The mechanism by which elective officials are chosen is broken and there is no will to fix it. We do not live in a democracy nor a republic. We live in a Two-Party System that is increasingly concentrating power in the hands of fewer and fewer people, mostly wealthy.

Return to Institute of Election Analysis Home Page

Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf