TRENTON (AP) — A federal judge on Friday agreed to block New Jersey’s unique primary ballot design, which has been widely criticized as boosting the prospects of party-backed candidates. The judge acknowledged the extraordinary nature of the order and said the “integrity of the democratic practice” was at stake.

The ruling shakes a foundational component of New Jersey’s primary election ballots, which in most of the state’s counties are designed by grouping the candidates with party support in a single column. That means the names of those running without establishment backing could be left in places on the ballot that are difficult to find.

Opponents of the system argued it put a “thumb on the scale” for party-preferred candidates. The defendants in the suit — most of the state's county clerks who design ballots — argued primarily that they didn't have enough time to redesign the ballots.

U.S. District Judge Zahid Quraishi granted a preliminary injunction sought by Democratic Rep. Andy Kim and two other candidates in the suit.

“The Court wishes to make clear that it recognizes the magnitude of its decision. The integrity of the democratic process for a primary election is at stake and the remedy Plaintiffs are seeking is extraordinary,” Quraishi said.

Kim called the ruling a victory in an emailed statement. An attorney representing a defendant declined to comment.

Kim's suit came amid a contentious primary contest against first lady Tammy Murphy in a race to succeed federally indicted U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. The issue, for Kim, was that Murphy had won party leader backing in populous counties, meaning she would have had favorable ballot positioning.

Murphy dropped out of the race on Sunday.

(Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission)

More From New Jersey 101.5 FM