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Democrats vote to ban 'fusion voting,' ask NY Legislature to act

Voting booths at West Babylon Junior High School

Voting booths at West Babylon Junior High School on Nov. 3, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

The state Democratic Party approved a resolution Monday to ban New York’s oft-criticized practice of fusion voting.

The resolution was nonbinding and has no legal impact. But Democratic leaders said they hope lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled State Legislature hear the message and pursue legislation.

“Of course, we hope there would be action based on this resolution and we will be coming to the state Assembly, state Senate and the governor with that,” said Jay Jacobs, state party chairman and head of the Nassau County Democratic Committee.

 Currently, New York is one of four states in the union that allow political candidates to appear on multiple ballot lines through the use of "fusion voting," or cross-endorsements. In practice, fusion voting typically means minor parties endorse a major-party candidate, rather than running candidates of their own.

Think the Working Families Party endorsing Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year, while the Conservative Party backed Republican Marc Molinaro.

The Green Party and the Libertarians have been the only two minor parties that consistently refuse to cross-endorse major party candidates.

 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 want to be. They say it allows the minor party to sponge off Republicans and Democrats.

 “I am all for ending fusion voting because I am tired of the tail wagging the dog,” Cortland County Committee Chairman Tim Perfetti said at the Democratic confab, a line repeated by several party officials.

Hoping to delay the vote, several speakers noted that the Working Families Party members helped campaign in September for Democrats running in primaries against members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a new-defunct faction that had aligned with and aided Republicans to keep control of the state Senate.

Others  sought to postpone the vote for a month or more, but failed. The committee overwhelming endorsed the resolution.

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

 Attempting to stop the vote on the resolution, the WFP circulated a letter from hundreds of locally elected officials supporting fusion voting and even got some help from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who wrote on Twitter: “We must preserve New York’s fusion voting system because it gives more voice to voters. I support the @WorkingFamilies Party’s efforts to protect this system, which gives voters a stronger voice in elections and in government.”

 Vermont, Sanders’ home state, doesn’t have fusion voting.

 State legislators said Monday there has been talk about ending fusion voting, but no bill to do so is currently pending.

 Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), a former WFP supporter and former IDC member, said fusion voting is a “corrupting influence” on elections. She said it’s time lawmakers take a harder look.

“I think it’s a discussion New York is ready for,” Savino said.

State & Region