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NY Political Parties Find Common Cause In Fusion Voting

A "vote here" sign in English and Spanish on sidewalk
Paul Tuthill

Political parties that represent the left and the right of New York’s political spectrum have joined in a common interest, and filed lawsuits against a new commission that might curtail their rights to cross endorse political candidates. Though the two parties in some cases hold diametrically opposing views on policy, they share a belief that Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to get rid of the practice as part of a political vendetta.   

The practice of what’s known as fusion voting was widespread in the 1900s. But now New York is one of just eight states that allows major party candidates, Democrats and Republicans, to also appear on the ballot on minor party lines.  

State Conservative Party Chair Gerry Kassar says the system has benefited candidates and his party. Under the rules in New York, political parties need to get at least 50,000 votes for a statewide candidate, or they have to undergo a cumbersome petition process the next time they want to be on the ballot. Cross endorsement often boosts a party’s votes high enough to avoid that process. But Kassar believes the practice also benefits voters, and gives them more options at the polls.  

“There are many Democrats, who have for years voted on the Conservative Party line for what might be Republican candidates, who choose not to switch their party enrollments,” Kassar said. “But this gives them an opportunity to express their philosophical voice.” 

A recently formed commission might put an end to that. The panel, formed as a part of the state budget, will come up with a plan for public campaign financing in New York by the end of the year. But it is also tasked with examining whether to end fusion voting. 

The Conservative Party, along with the progressive Working Families Party, have filed separate lawsuits to try to stop the commission from making any decisions on fusion voting, saying to do so would be unconstitutional. 

Assemblyman Phil Steck, a Capitol Region Democrat, who has also run on the Working Families Party line, is one of several lawmakers who have joined the Working Families Party lawsuit. 

“It’s one thing for a commission to look at it and to make recommendations,” Steck said. But he says under the rules of the commission, it will release its conclusions by December 1. If the legislature does not act to change the findings in 22 days, by December 22, the decisions will stand and take on the force of law. 

“That violates the fundamental principle that it’s only the legislature that can make laws and we can’t delegate to a commission the power to make laws,” Steck said. 

Both Steck and Kassar believe the real motivation behind the potential attempt to end fusion voting stems from a feud between Cuomo and the Working Families Party. In 2018, the Working Families Party endorsed Cuomo’s Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon. After the governor won the primary, the party endorsed Cuomo.

Kassar calls it a power grab by Cuomo. 

“It’s just part of his continuing efforts to try to control every little bit of New York state government,” Kassar said.   

Steck agrees.

“Unfortunately the answer is frankly, yes,” he said. 

He says Cuomo’s appointee to the commission, state Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Jacobs, has already expressed opposition to fusion voting. In March, the state Democratic Party passed a resolution against fusion voting.  

“So I think that’s a fair inference from the circumstance,” Steck said.  

Senior advisor to Cuomo, Rich Azzopardi, says it’s actually the other way around. He says it’s really about the Working Families Party trying to “protect their own power.”  

“The party and people who talk a lot about party purity and progressive purity have now gone into bed with pro-Trump, anti-women, anti-LGBTQ rights extreme conservatives, like the Conservative Party,” Azzopardi said. “I find that to be the height of hypocrisy and very ironic.”

The commission has not yet set a date for first meeting.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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