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Another Voice: New York needs to put an end to fusion voting

By Jeremy J. Zellner

“New York has the worst voting system in the country.”

That was the headline in the September edition of The Atlantic. It’s an overstatement, because there are states with lower turnout and laws more arcane than New York’s.

Still, it’s too close to the truth. That’s why we urgently need sweeping election law reform in the Empire State.

In 2016, with two New Yorkers competing for the White House, only 57 percent of voters cast a ballot. That ranked us 41st in the nation, but it’s still a robust number compared to the 12 percent who voted in the 2017 New York City mayoral primary.

When we break 60 percent, it’s news. And it shouldn’t be – at least not good news. A lack of early voting, a costly and duplicative primary election process, and restrictive registration rules are the major roadblocks to greater participation in our democracy.

As Democratic Erie County elections commissioner and chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party, I see these problems from dual points of view that lead to only one conclusion: We must act now.

And as part of the New York State Election Commissioners Association, where I am a member of the legislative committee and the NYSECA Democratic Caucus, I have the opportunity to help make that happen in 2019.

This week’s NYSECA conference in Albany will tackle many of the issues involved in voting reform, including one that will make all the others easier to achieve: An end to fusion voting, in which candidates are cross-endorsed by more than one party and combine the votes they receive across multiple lines.

The result is voter confusion and a logistical headache for local election boards because of the complexity and delays involved with designing and printing fusion ballots. It also often makes it difficult to mail ballots to absentee voters by the legal deadlines.

This is why all but four states have eliminated this practice. New York should, too.

With fusion voting a thing of the past, minor parties will nominate candidates who truly represent their philosophical goals, giving voters a meaningful choice on Election Day.

The Green Party currently refuses to cross-endorse those who don’t share their environmental vision, and this should be the standard for every political organization that asks New Yorkers for their vote.

And without the bureaucratic mess that fusion voting creates, the path will be cleared for reforms such as early voting and Election Day registration. These are common-sense changes that are long overdue in a state that calls itself America’s progressive capital.

Jeremy J. Zellner is chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee and Democratic commissioner of the Erie County Board of Elections.

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