Use Of Fusion Voting Is What Political Parties Make Of It

There has been quite a push amongst state legislators to end New York’s system of “fusion voting.”

The system allows political parties to list the same candidate on their ballot lines on an election ballot and then combine the candidate’s vote totals.

We agree in part with Norman Green, Chautauqua County Democrat election commissioner, who has said minor party endorsements can be a “sometimes insurmountable millstone in the way of statewide election contests.”

As much as the system can be confusing, the minor parties do give rise to philosophies and policies that the Republican and Democratic parties could ignore as a matter of practical politics. Voters are given the option to cast a vote for a candidate they like while voting for a platform espoused by the smaller party they favor.

Locally, the coveted Independence Party line was the driver of change 10 years ago when Tom Shagla, Chautauqua County Independence Party chairman, told candidates who wanted the party’s endorsement that they had to be willing to vote in line with the party’s wishes to eliminate health care coverage for members of the County Legislature. The party’s hard line was a big part of a change that saved taxpayers thousands of dollars, and it might not have been possible without the ballot access guaranteed with fusion voting.

Then, about three weeks after the legislature approved the health care elimination, Shagla and the Independence Party said publicly that the party wouldn’t endorse legislative candidates who weren’t willing to vote in favor of a 15-member legislature.

Perhaps there should be some limitation on fusion voting at the state level, such as increasing the amount of votes needed for a gubernatorial candidate to ensure automatic ballot access. For a party to receive automatic ballot access in New York, a gubernatorial candidate must receive at least 50,000 votes on its line. That ensures automatic access for the next four years through the next statewide election. Making it more difficult for a party to have automatic access to the ballot may reduce the millstone that Green referred to.

Something Shagla said a decade ago still rings true when he discussed the importance the party placed on being proactive on issues of concern to county residents.

“You can sell your (ballot) line to (candidates) for any reason whatsoever … but there’s no value to it if they never do anything. The more things we do, the more valuable our line is going to be.”

Fusion voting was a valuable tool for Chautauqua County 10 years ago. It can be again — but its use is only what the smaller political parties make of it.