Five people ran for governor of New York last fall. But when voters went to polling places on Election Day, those five names appeared on 10 different ballot lines. Gov. Andrew Cuomo ran as the candidate of the Democratic, Working Families, Independence and Women’s Equality parties. Marc Molinaro was the choice of the Republican, Conservative and Reform parties.
That’s fusion voting — being allowed to appear on multiple ballot lines by receiving cross-endorsements from different parties. And it stinks.
At best, it’s a practice whose time has come and gone.
At worst, it’s a way for parties to manipulate elections by making backroom deals that deprive voters of choices and divvy up the spoils of patronage.
Outsized influence for minor parties
At a minimum, it’s a mockery of the idea that a political party should have its own principles and run candidates who share them. It gives minor parties outsized influence by giving them a way to force major parties to adopt more extreme positions in exchange for endorsements.
Only four states let candidates appear on multiple ballot lines. With the state Democratic Party approving a resolution to ban fusion voting, the time for reform has come.
In New York, the two major parties, Democratic and Republican, typically run their own candidates, many of whom welcome minor-party endorsements. Among minor parties, only the Greens and Libertarians consistently field their own candidates with well-defined platforms. Some minor parties, like the Independence and Reform parties, are ideologically bankrupt.
The Working Families and Conservative parties function largely as the more extreme wings of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. They say fusion voting allows people to vote for candidates on different lines to show support for more liberal or conservative views. But that can be done via a primary — as when lefty newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez beat incumbent Joe Crowley in a Democratic congressional primary last year.
Fusion voting wreaks havoc in places like Long Island’s Suffolk County. Voters often have no choices because candidates on multiple lines run unopposed. Last year, county Democrats and Conservatives rigged a megadeal that put eight judges on the bench. State Conservatives hold Republicans hostage, too, by threatening not to endorse them.
One candidate, one ballot line
Leading the opposition to ban fusion voting is the Working Families Party, which backed most Democrats now in the Senate majority. Last week, 26 of them signed a letter saying they want to keep fusion voting. Some privately have told leadership they would shut down government by refusing to approve any state budget that includes a ban. But the WFP functions in 18 states, according to its website, only four of which allow fusion voting.
If fusion voting died, ballots would be simplified, with one candidate on one line. A candidate would not be held hostage by a minor party in exchange for its line. Legitimate minor parties with clear positions would benefit as illegitimate parties fall by the wayside. And minor-party candidates could win on their own.
The State Legislature has taken big steps this year to make voting easier and elections more fair. Getting rid of fusion voting would help with both goals. Let’s get it done.