Fusion Voting Needs To End in New York State
The dirty little secret in New York state is that the root of any ethical failures in politics starts not with the Democrats and Republicans, but with the influential minor parties named Independence Conservative, Working Families, Women’s Equality and Reform.
From the highest levels of state government, Governor of New York, five of the minor political parties are, as we speak, determining the landscape of this year’s election ballot with early endorsements or head shakes for and against candidates.
The Working Families Party, the union based partner that is the normal and logical partner of Democratic candidates, this past weekend had its executive committee endorse a television star to be its candidate for Governor on the November ballot. On the Republican side, state Conservative Party Chair Mike Long was at the same time shaking his head no to the former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra’s announced candidacy for governor. Each action is a huge and sometimes insurmountable millstone in the way of statewide election contests.
New York is one of just several states that allows the practice called fusion voting. This permits the little political parties to cross-endorse major party candidates. In non-fusion voting states if a Republican or Democratic candidate were to run on second lines, the vote tallies in November would not be allowed to be combined with the totals cast for the candidate on the major party line. This is not the case in New York where the more lines a candidate has, the better the chance he or she has to increase their final grand total vote tally.
Further complicating any candidate’s ability to win an election is the fact that there is virtually no primary opportunity once say the Conservative or Working Families Parties’ leaders decide their party endorsements. Except for judges, who along the way got themselves a pass from the so called “Wilson Pakula” party authorization for a political candidate not having membership with the minor party making the endorsement to be a candidate on that party’s line. (The only end run available to candidates shut out of the “Wilson Pakula” endorsement process of the minor parties is a little used and difficult “opportunity-to-ballot” petition that forces the chance to write-in a name of any other candidate for the office sought on Primary Day vs. the endorsed candidate’s name that appears on the Primary Day ballot.)
In the 1940s, both the Republican and Democrats wanted to stop fusion voting and wrongly thought that the enactment of the “Wilson Pakula” legislation halting minor party raids by the major party candidates for the purpose of fusion voting would bring an end to cross party voting. Instead the minor parties no longer run candidates of their own, with the exception of the state’s Green Party, and now these minor parties either punish or demand bounty from the Dems and Reps in exchange for an endorsement.
Recently, the Working Families Party executed its punishment on Gov. Cuomo, denying him and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul the ballot line and instead awarding the party’s nod to Cuomo’s little known movie star challenger who has no business or government resume to speak of. To the voters of New York State this means ballot confusion and with ballot confusion goes long term hand-in-hand voter turnout decreasing. The dwindling voter turnout numbers are the best friend of the minor parties, as low voter turnout increases the value of any second, third, and fourth minor party line endorsement.
Locally, minor party leadership for the Conservatives and Independence Parties in particular weigh heavy on who wins or loses any county election and ethical lapses are also often part and parcel of the process. Before the voters get a chance to cast a vote in Chautauqua County, Independence Party Chair Thom Shagla and Conservative Party Chair Anna Wilcox, along with several executive committee members, decide endorsements. These endorsements alone often determine the winners and the losers of the following November General election.
Wilcox and her county Conservative Party always precede their endorsement process of candidates who are not registered members of their party by inviting and insisting that these candidates attend a fund raising party. Only a few Democratic candidates normally submit to the shake down each year, so the room is generally filled with Republican politicians who dare not to contribute to the party lest they not be cross endorsed. At the state level, the Conservatives always cross endorse the Republicans with no exception.
Shagla and his county Independence Party is more pure in that there is no shakedown for donations, but are the recipient of personal one-on-one appeals from candidate wannabees. While my friend Thom Shagla would no doubt protest, there is no particular standard that he and his executive committee follow in their endorsement process. In 2018 the Independence Party endorsed, at the county level, all incumbents except for Larry Barmore for County Clerk and David Himelein for County Legislature, who had an Independence Party registered voter running against him.
At the state level, the Independence Party isn’t a home for independent candidates either. The party usually cross-endorses Republican candidates in congressional and state legislative races. It has cross-endorsed some Democrats, including Cuomo and other candidates for statewide office.
The Women’s Equality and Working Families Party universally require candidates to submit to questionnaires requiring answers to questions most important to their political protectives. are probably the most ideologically pure and only endorse Democratic candidates. The Reform Party, started by Republican 2014 gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino under the Reform Party’s previous Stop Common Core single issue platform is currently in statewide flux with a fight on for political control. The Green Party, as I said earlier, runs only ideologically pure candidates with no cross endorsements.
Even The Post-Journal and Observer are in on the cross endorsement confusion, allowing our local Republican State Senators and Assembly members to identify themselves as being affiliated with multiple political parties. In example, Andy Goodell, R-C-I, representing that he won his last election with the Republican, Conservative and Independence parties’ backing. When is truth, he only meets with the Republican Assembly caucus or conference as the Albany legislators say.
Most voters have no idea or even care about fusion voting. But they should because everything they don’t like about Albany politics or confusing elections is based in the minor party political parties of New York State and Chautauqua County and absolutely influences the election that will take place Nov. 6 and Election Days beyond. It is time to take the first step in fixing New York politics and end fusion voting.
Norman P. Green is Chautauqua County’s Democratic election commissioner and chairman of the Chautauqua County Democratic Party.