Alex Clark never aspired to become a sheriff. But the 28-year-old lab manager entered the sheriff’s race in Somerset County, N.J., not to get the job but to help his favorite presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, get a prominent spot on the state’s Democratic primary ballot. “I’m not running a campaign, or raising any money or spending any money,” Clark said. “I don’t expect to win.” In New Jersey, county clerks often determine ballot positions by randomly drawing county candidates’ names from a well-shaken wooden box. Sanders’ campaign says those drawings can favor establishment and other candidates who are aligned — or “bracketed” — with the county candidates.
Had Sanders not assembled his own slate of affiliated county candidates, he could have ended up in New Jersey’s version of “ballot Siberia,” said state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Sanders’ state chairman. That could have handed Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, a major advantage in last month’s drawings.
In the end, Sanders got the prime ballot position in seven counties and will appear in the next column in most others.
His campaign’s close scrutiny of New Jersey’s quirky ballot process reflects Sanders’ determination to win every delegate possible in the state’s June 7 primary. Although he has almost no chance to win the Democratic presidential nomination, his final haul of pledged delegates will determine his clout at the party’s convention in July and his ability to shape its platform.