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Fusion Voting Faces Uncertain Future In NY

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

If you’ve voted in New York state, you may have been able to vote for the same candidate on multiple ballot lines. But it could be the last election with so-called fusion voting in New York.

The state Public Campaign Financing Commission has been discussing the future of campaign financing and fusion voting — where candidates can run on multiple ballot lines, often benefitting from cross-party endorsements.

Talk of banning fusion voting has minor political parties on edge.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had expressed concerns that fusion voting could wreak havoc with a publicly-funded campaign finance system. He clarified his position during a news conference Friday.  "I support public finance. I've proposed public finance for years. It is complex and it's controversial, so we put together this commission, to work through the exact plan. For the commission to put forth a plan, you need support from the executive, the Assembly and the Senate."

Cuomo contends the cost of covering a battery of candidates representing multiple political parties using public funds could be enormous.   "If you made all candidates for all those primaries eligible for public financing, that could be one heck of a bill. So, they should be cost-conscious in doing this also. We just had a briefing on the numbers for next year's budget. We have a big Medicaid hole and costs matter. So as they're doing this plan they should keep in mind the costs to the taxpayer."

Cuomo noted that when the commission report, expected on Thanksgiving Eve, is released to the legislature, members have a right to vote for it or against it, or change it.

Cuomo’s fellow Democrat, Albany Assemblyman Phil Steck, has joined a lawsuit aiming to stop the commission from going forward.   "I have a very negative opinion of this idea of having commissions set up to do legislative work. That's what we were elected to do. We have committees that can handle these things, and in my mind these things, if we're going to eliminate fusion voting, it should be voted on by the legislature, not passed off to a commission and then said well, it's going to become law unless the legislature comes back and votes it down. That's very difficult to do when we're out of session. I can't call a special session of the legislature to address that, so I'm frankly think it's not constitutional to have commissions doing these things.  On the merits of fusion voting, I think we have to be honest. I think the governor didn't like Working Families Party endorsing his opponent. I didn't endorse his opponent, but I don't feel, I feel that the system of elections benefits from more free speech, not less. So I would support having fusion voting continue."

Democratic Albany state Senator Neil Breslin is on the same page.  "Third parties have been instrumental in presenting issues that are important to voters. I hate to see them discarded or put to the side. I think they're critically important to our political process."

Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Schenectady, Cuomo, who admits he's run on fusion voting in every election, fine-tuned his stance.   "I know it's controversial. I know a lot of editorial boards and good-government groups are against it. I have run with it, so I've obviously done it. I support it. iI's up to the commission to design an entire system. And these things have to work together. You know, public finance is a very big move, a positive move, but it's a big move. And the commission has to redesign the election system to work with that."

Barring a special legislative session, the commission’s recommendations automatically become law by the end of the year.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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