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End to NY's oft-criticized 'fusion voting' could be on the table

Arnulfo Ruiz, right, at a polling place at

Arnulfo Ruiz, right, at a polling place at the Calvary Tabernacle Assembly of God in upstate Schenectady during the state's primary election on Sept. 9, 2014. Photo Credit: AP/Marc Schultz

With a new-look State Legislature arriving in Albany, an old and oft-criticized New York political practice could be on the way out.

New York could cease to be one of the few states in the union that allow political candidates to appear on multiple ballot lines through the use of “fusion voting,” or cross-endorsements.

A “voting reform” package will be one of the early agenda items in Albany when the Legislature — now controlled by Democrats in both houses — returns in January. It is likely to include items considered “low-hanging fruit,” such as combining federal and state primaries on one day, permitting “early” voting and easing registration.

It might also include a proposal to end cross-endorsements, a move favored by some legislators, sources said.

New York is one of just three states in the nation that permit a candidate’s name to actually 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.)

For example, in November, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was on the ballot on the Democratic, Working Families, Women’s Equality and Independence party lines; Challenger Marc Molinaro was on the Republican, Conservative and Reform party lines.

The smaller parties have used their endorsements at times to get major-party politicians to advance their policy goals.

But critics say the minor parties use Republicans and Democrats for financial support and patronage positions sprinkled across state and local governments.

“Fusion voting came out of the industrial Midwest by those who were trying to break single-party dominance,” said Jim Twombly, a professor of American politics at Elmira College. “Here in New York, the way it’s been applied” has been more about “how a minor party can feed off” major parties in exchange for a ballot line.

Further, minor parties push candidates more to the extreme left or right as a price for scoring an endorsement. It can result in the fringe parties becoming the “tail wagging the dog.” — that is, calling the shots on policy positions and candidate selections.

The issue of minor party endorsements is a “sometimes insurmountable millstone in the way of statewide election contests,” Norman Green, a Chautauqua County elections commissioner and a Democrat, said earlier this year in a call to end of fusion voting.

Minor party officials say multiple ballot lines offer voters a choice to express themselves and their values. But really, the practice doesn’t actually expand the number of candidates, Twombly said.

With the exception of the Green Party, the other minors almost never nominate their own candidates, but rather support a Democrat or Republican. Even when the Working Families Party nominated Cynthia Nixon for governor last spring, it eventually dumped her and backed Cuomo after he won the Democratic primary.

Cuomo supported ending cross-endorsements in 2013, but the idea went nowhere. But the Legislature is vastly different now.

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