Nothing displays the absurdity of New York’s cross-endorsement electoral system like when a candidate’s name appears under multiple parties in a local election. “Jane Doe” might be the nominee for town board on the Republican, Democratic, Independence and Conservative lines.
It might be harmless in a town vote where the outcome is preordained, but what’s known as fusion voting has larger, unwelcome consequences in county and state elections.
Fusion voting is when a candidate is supported and endorsed by more than one party. The practice gives political leverage to minor parties that’s out of proportion to their size and pulls major-party candidates toward the fringes, to satisfy the demands of those courting their endorsement.
The state Democratic Committee approved a resolution on Monday supporting a ban on the practice. Though it will be under much pressure from minority parties to keep the status quo, the Democratic-controlled Legislature would do well to take the baton and consign fusion voting to the history books.
The practice took hold in the 19th and early 20th centuries as a strategy for trying to break the stranglehold that the corrupt Tammany Hall Democratic political machine had on New York City politics.
After the two major parties, others on modern New York ballots are the Green, Independence, Libertarian, Reform, Conservative and Working Families parties. Others have come and gone, as parties must earn 50,000 votes in a state election to stay on future ballots.
There have been notable successes for minor-party candidates. John Lindsay won his second term as New York City’s mayor under the Liberal Party banner after losing the Republican primary. James Buckley was elected to the U.S. Senate from New York in 1970 on the Conservative line.
These days the Green and Libertarian parties traditionally nominate their own candidates, while the others mostly cross-endorse major-party names. The Working Families Party, representing many progressive activist groups and labor unions, traditionally endorses Democrats and tries to pull them to the left. The Conservative Party usually picks Republicans and presses them to tack right.
Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, speaking to the Albany Times Union, summed up the effect: “If you like a more conservative Republican Party, you love fusion voting. If you like a more progressive Democratic Party, you love fusion voting.”
When both major parties are pulled to the extremes, compromise becomes more difficult and the result is polarization. In New York State, Democrats are now firmly in charge, controlling the governorship and both houses of the Legislature. It’s harder for Democratic lawmakers from Western New York to represent all of their constituents, even those who voted against them, when progressives dominate the legislative agenda in Albany. New York doesn’t need to move further to the left.
Supporters of fusion voting, which is allowed in just a handful of states, say it promotes democracy by giving minor parties a bigger voice. But by using their endorsement on a major party candidate, they are essentially putting that voice up for sale, in exchange for patronage jobs and platform promises. Let them run their own candidates and earn their seat at the table.