Camden County Clerk Joseph Ripa dipped his hand into a worn wooden box and slowly pulled out the names of five campaign slogans associated with the presidential, congressional, and county government candidates who will run together on slates in New Jersey's June 7 primary.
The random drawing, conducted with both drama and a touch of humor in front of a dozen spectators Friday afternoon, settled the testy jockeying for ballot positions. It also ended the potential of a second court challenge by newcomer Alex Law, who is vying to unseat Donald Norcross, in a heated Democratic primary battle for a seat in the First Congressional District.
Law, a Bernie Sanders supporter who just became eligible to run for Congress when he turned 25 last month, filed a lawsuit that month asking a judge to order the Camden clerk to clarify how he conducts the random drawing. Alan Schorr, Law's attorney, said Law wanted to avoid being unfairly placed in "ballot Siberia," far from the coveted Column One, which is readily visible to voters and statistically advantageous.
Law, who quit his job as an IBM consultant to run for Congress, said in his lawsuit that he had learned some clerks conduct a separate drawing for candidates who are bracketed, or aligned with a slate of candidates, and give these groups a preference in ballot placement. He had wanted to know whether it would be strategically wise to bracket with a slate of county freeholder candidates or to run separately but he said Ripa would not answer his questions.
The lawsuit was dismissed last week after Superior Court Judge Mary Beth Kramer said state law gives the clerks discretion in how to conduct the drawings and arrange the ballots. But she also invited Law to return to court if he believed he was treated unfairly during the drawing. She said that the law requires one drawing for all candidates, bracketed or not.
On Friday, Law said he was satisfied with the process even though his name will appear at the top of Column Five with a slate of county freeholder candidates who use the slogan "True Democrats for Camden County." Norcross, who was not present at the drawing, will appear in Column Three, under the name of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and with the endorsed slate of freeholder candidates under the name of "Camden County Democrat Committee Inc."
Sanders will be in Column Two, with his slate of freeholder candidates. He had decided against aligning himself with the congressional candidates in New Jersey. The other columns on the ballot, including the favorite, Column One, will be led by other slates of unendorsed county and municipal government candidates.
"The ideal scenario would be if we were in Column One, but it was a fair process the clerk used and I am very satisfied," Law said afterward. He shook Ripa's hand and thanked him.
Before the drawing, tiny papers containing the names of the candidates' slogans were rolled up and placed into clear plastic cylinders. They were small enough that they all could be put together into the seven-inch square wooden box that Camden clerks have been using for more than six decades. But first, Deputy Clerk John Schmidt invited the audience to inspect the cylinders for "any chips" or identifiers that could be used to give the edge to a favored slate of candidates.
Schorr, Law's attorney, earlier joked that NBA drafts were rumored to be fixed by placing one envelope in the freezer the night before the drawing. In the lawsuit that Schorr filed on behalf of Law, he noted that Ripa, a Democrat, had run with Norcross in a 2014 election and both had been placed in Column One.
Ripa said afterward that the lawsuit was "absolute nonsense" and that he has for many years conducted fair drawings. "We've always done it the same way. There is nothing we do under the table," he said.
Ripa also drew names for the Republican ballot. Since there were no challengers to the county government candidates endorsed by the Camden County Republican Committee, Column One was given to the endorsed candidates, with presidential candidate Donald Trump, the choice of the GOP committee, at the top. Presidential candidate Ted Cruz got Column Two, by random draw, and John Kasich got Column Three.