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New York Conservatives will sue to block fusion voting threat

Even the suggestion that New York may prohibit political candidates from seeking office on multiple lines is about to draw a lawsuit from the state’s Conservative Party.

Ralph C. Lorigo, the Erie County Conservative chairman and state vice chairman, said the party will file suit next month challenging the Legislature’s creation of a separate commission to establish new voting procedures. In the same effort, the party will contend that 100 years of legal precedent should be preserved for the “fusion voting” system allowing candidates in major parties like Democratic and Republican to also run on minor lines like Conservative, Independence or Working Families.

While no action to end fusion voting is expected in the final days of the 2019 legislative session, Lorigo said he expects Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to eventually support ending New York’s unique system.

“We believe fusion voting actually brings more people to the polls because minor party values are so clearly articulated, and you get to send a message through that vote,” he said. “I’m not afraid of having this discussion in front of the public, which needs to realize its rights are being taken away.”

Lorigo said state Conservative Chairman Jerry Kassar asked him to lead the legal effort. It stems from the Legislature’s creation earlier this year of a special commission to “review and recommend changes to certain aspects of the state election law.” Following a State Supreme Court decision last week negating the action of a similar commission that prohibited outside income for state lawmakers, Lorigo said Conservatives will now make the same argument.

The commission will consist of two members appointed by the governor, two by the Senate majority leader, two by the speaker of the Assembly, one by the Senate minority leader, one by the Assembly minority leader, and a ninth member jointly named by the governor, Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker.

“That statute gives power to a body of nine people,” Lorigo said. “The Constitution says the only body with the power to make laws is the Legislature. We say you can’t designate that authority to a commission of nine.”

While the Democratic takeover of the Legislature earlier this year resulted in a slew of election law changes (such as moving primary elections from September to June), efforts to end  fusion voting have gone nowhere. Indeed, 26 Democratic senators (many backed by the Working Families Party) earlier this year signed a letter supporting fusion voting, which is allowed only in a handful of other states.

The electoral commission established as part of the budget process focuses on public financing, but its mission can be interpreted widely to include fusion voting. The panel must report its recommendations by Dec. 1 to the Legislature. Those recommendations become binding Dec. 22, unless otherwise addressed by lawmakers. That would require a special legislative session, since both houses are slated to adjourn next week.

Still, Lorigo said Conservatives suspect that Cuomo will eventually back an end to fusion voting, especially after Working Families at least initially endorsed other candidates for governor in the 2014 and 2018 elections. He noted the resolution passed by the Cuomo-controlled Democratic State Committee earlier this year calling for an end to fusion, even though the governor has not officially weighed in on the issue.

“It’s our belief Cuomo wants to eliminate fusion voting because in the last two elections he did not at least initially get the Working Families endorsement,” Lorigo said

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