Commission to look at end to fusion voting

Apr 3, 2019

A commission to examine a public campaign finance system for statewide elections in New York may also look at whether to continue the state’s practice of what’s known as fusion voting.

The practice allows more than one political party to support the same candidate on the ballot, a practice that resulted in the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor appearing on six different ballot lines in 2018.

But the proposed change has members on the left and the right of the mainstream political parties concerned. 

The form of fusion voting allowed in New York is permitted in just three other states. It has benefited smaller political parties on both the left and right, such as the progressive Working Families Party, which frequently endorses Democratic candidates for office, and the state’s Conservative Party, which often cross-endorses Republican office-seekers.

State Conservative Party Chair Jerry Kassar said ending fusion voting would be a “strong error.” He said a GOP candidate who also has the backing of the Conservative Party helps to define the candidate for the voter.

He said the multiple lines also give more options to voters who may be reluctant to cross major party lines when they oppose a candidate’s view on a hot-button issue.

“If they are an upstate voter and the Second Amendment is a big deal to them, that is a place where you’ll find a Second Amendment candidate,” Kassar said. “If you are a downstate voter and your opposition to congestion pricing is a big deal to you, you’ll find a candidate on that line.”

While the Conservative and Republican parties in New York often work in tandem, the Working Families Party in recent years has run afoul of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The party supported Cynthia Nixon, a Democratic primary challenger to Cuomo in last year’s gubernatorial primary. After Cuomo won that primary, the party switched its backing to Cuomo.

In 2014, Working Families reluctantly backed Cuomo for re-election after first forcing him to make a video promising to fulfill a number of pledges, though he was unable to follow through on some of them.

Jessica Wisneski is with the progressive reform group Citizen Action. She is also a state committee member in the Working Families Party. She said the decision to have the commission weigh in on fusion voting is payback, pure and simple.

“It’s just good old-fashioned Cuomo revenge,” Wisneski said. “It’s totally political.”

The IDC, or Independent Democratic Conference, was a breakaway group of Democratic senators who helped keep Republicans in power in the Senate. Six of its eight members lost in primaries in 2018.  

Cuomo did not mention specific political parties when he spoke on March 31 about fusion voting. But he expressed concern about the costs that the multiple minor parties could bring to a taxpayer-financed campaign system.

“It’s a financial and a practical question,” said Cuomo, who pointed out that it’s possible there could be eight candidates on each of six different party lines in a primary.

“That’s a lot of candidates,” Cuomo said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has expressed similar concerns about costs.

The state’s major newspapers, including The New York Times, Long Island’s Newsday and The Buffalo News have editorialized against fusion voting.

The state Democratic Party, which is controlled by Cuomo, voted earlier this year on a resolution to ban fusion voting, though it does not carry the force of law.

Lawrence Norden is with New York University’s Brennan Center, which supports fusion voting. He disputes that it would make public campaign financing more expensive. He said under other public campaign finance programs, including in New York City and the state of Connecticut, money is allotted to the candidate, regardless of how many political parties back the office-seeker.

“And what you do is you say that it’s the candidate who qualifies for public financing, not the party line,” said Norden, who added in the rare occurrence that a candidate runs in two different party primaries, they would get public money for only one of the races. 

Kassar, with the Conservative Party, said even if fusion voting ends, he thinks his party will still be influential in New York’s elections.

“The parties do not stop existing; we will be on the ballot,” Kassar said.

Kassar and leaders of other third parties in New York say they plan to testify in favor of fusion voting when the commission holds public hearings later this year.