By Brad Smith
Fusion voting, or collateral endorsement, is the process through which a candidate for public office can be listed as the candidate for more than one party. This process was very common in thenineteenth century, although today it is an uncommon practice, and New York Is the only state where fusion voting has a noticeable impact. In recent months, however, New York politicians have debated the usefulness and wisdom of the practice.
The concept of fusion voting was seen as a way to encourage third party voters to go to the polls. The eternal problem with third party voting is well known in American politics: third party supporters feel as if their votes are wasted by voting with their party, and as such they decide to either vote for a viable candidate that does not align with their views, or they abstain from voting altogether. Fusion voting allowed third parties to negotiate with major party candidates. In exchange for considering the party’s views, the candidate would be able to secure another spot on the ballot under that party’s name. Third party voters would therefore be more likely to turn out and vote for that candidate, as they knew their voice had been heard, and they could vote for the party of their choice and show their support.
Today, this practice is only allowed in seven states: “Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont[.]” Earlier this year, fusion voting came under attack in New York, due to the view that it fosters corruption of state officials. In the wake of numerous New York politicians being arrested on corruption charges, numerous proposals were discussed “to combat Albany’s chronic corruption problem.” One such proposal would repeal the Wilson-Pakula Act of 1947, which allows “leaders of political parties . . . to anoint nonparty members who want to run on their ballot lines.” Repealing this act would not destroy fusion voting, but would require that those seeking to run on another party’s label collect the necessary signatures to be put on the ballot. The hope is that this would give third party voters more control over who their nominees are, as opposed to the current procedure which grants this power to party leadership.
While repealing Wilson-Pakula would prevent the obviously corrupt moves, such as attempting to buy a spot on the ballot, it would not prevent the same wealthy individual from using their money to pay petition circulators, thus achieving the same result. Furthermore, repeal would potentially cripple third parties, who currently enjoy a decent amount of power in New York and give individuals upset with the two-party system a way to speak out for a major party candidate while admonishing him/her to keep the third party’s values in mind.
Even with this debate, it is clear that fusion voting remains alive and well in New York. For example, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, ran on both the Democratic and Working Party labels.