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NY Democratic committee to consider ban on 'fusion voting'

New York is one of just three states in the nation that permit a candidate's name to appear on multiple ballot lines, a practice critics say allows minor parties to sponge off major ones. 

Voters fill out their ballots inside the Queens

Voters fill out their ballots inside the Queens Borough Public Library in Elmhurst during the midterm elections on Nov. 6, 2018. Photo Credit: Sipa USA via AP/ANTHONY BEHAR/SIPA USA

The state Democratic Party Committee will convene Monday in Westchester County in part to consider a ban on fusion voting — the practice, rarely used in other states, which allows candidates to appear on multiple ballot lines under the endorsement of multiple parties.

Jay Jacobs, the incoming state party chairman and current Nassau County Democratic chairman, backs the ban and believes it has a chance of passing the committee. But the bigger question is whether state legislators will be spurred by the vote and actually approve a law to prohibit fusion voting.

As deployed in New York, fusion voting typically means minor parties endorsing a major-party candidate. Think about the Working Families Party endorsing Democrat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year and the Conservative Party backing Republican Marc Molinaro.

It’s rare for the transaction to go the other way, with a major party nominating a minor-party member.

Critics say the system too often leads to minor parties squeezing out patronage jobs from the major parties and forcing major-party candidates farther to the left or right than they normally would be — a “tail wagging the dog” situation giving fringe players outsized influence. They say it allows the minor party to sponge off Republicans and Democrats.

“It creates all sorts of problems. You’ve got transactional politics. You have lack of clarity for voters,” Jacobs, a longtime critic of the system, said. “There’s no good-government basis for fusion voting.”

Minor parties don’t disagree the system gives them leverage. But they also say it gives their members a chance to be heard and influence legislation rather than be ignored.

“Make no mistake: This is a direct attack by Andrew Cuomo on the Working Families Party, our grassroots supporters, and progressive activists across New York in political retribution for the historic gains we’ve made together over the past year,” WFP Executive Director Bill Lipton said in an email blast to supporters urging them to get out the word about Monday's expected vote.

Though Lipton characterized the anti-fusion push as coming from Cuomo, Jacobs said it comes from Democratic county chairs and progressive members of the party.

Cuomo has feuded with the WFP through each of his gubernatorial campaigns. In 2018, the party initially endorsed actress Cynthia Nixon, but reluctantly switched to Cuomo after he defeated her in a Democratic primary.

But it’s also true that complaints about fusion voting have been voiced for years by many Republicans and Democrats, not just Cuomo. Norman Green, a Chautauqua County elections commissioner and a Democrat, last fall called it a “millstone” around statewide elections.

New York is one of just three states in the nation that permit a candidate's name to appear on multiple ballot lines, according to Ballot Access News, a website that monitors election laws. Several others allow multiple endorsements while still printing a candidate's name just once on the actual ballot.

Most of the minor parties simply attach themselves to major parties rather than run candidates of their own. The Green Party and the Libertarians have been the only two minor parties that consistently refuse to cross-endorse major party candidates.

It’s one thing for the Democratic Party Committee to vote against fusion voting. Outlawing it through state legislation is another matter. Jacobs said the party vote could boost the chances of legislative action, but nothing is certain.

 “If we do it, I suspect it will catch the attention of folks in Albany,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean they’ll listen or follow it.”

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