Yet another electoral-system reform: "ballot fusion," or "cross-endorsement"

Right now we’ve got two threads going in GD on issues of fundamental reforms to the American electoral systems:

“What do you think about proportional representation in the US House of Reps?” –


“Instant-runoff voting: avoiding the third-party “spoiler” problem” –

To round it out, I’d like to start this one on another proposed reform: “Ballot fusion” or “cross-endorsement.” This is much simpler than the other two: “fusion” means running one candidate for a public office as the nominee of two or more parties.

“Fusion” was the principal campaign strategy of the left-progressive New Party, founded in 1992. The idea was for the New Party to cross-endorse any acceptably progressive Democrat, running its own candidates only in races where no progressive Democrat was in the race. It was hoped this would, to some degree, pull the Democratic Party to the left – Dems would have an incentive to pitch themselves so as to attract the NP endorsement. (Of course, other minor parties could in principle use the same strategy – e.g., the Libertarians could use it to pull the Republican Party towards libertarianism and away from social-religious conservatism and foreign-policy neoconservatism.)

This didn’t get very far, largely because fusion is illegal in most states, and has been since the 1890s. From Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America, by Micah L. Sifry (New York: Routledge, 2002), Chapter 9:

The New Party filed a lawsuit in Minnesota to force the state to allow fusion based on the “freedom of association” clause of the First Amendment. It went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected the argument in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, April 28, 1997. After the Timmons decision, the New Party gradually faded away as a national organization. (There’s still a New Party website, at, but it hasn’t been updated in years.) But some state-level branches of it survived in states where fusion is legal, such as e.g., the Working Families Party in New York ( and Connecticut ( And there’s still Progressive Minnesota (url]

The national-level leadership of the NP decided to channel their energies into creating a new organization dedicated to fighting for fusion as an electoral reform: The New Majority Education Fund:

So what do you think? Is ballot fusion something that should be allowed by law in every state?

Here’s a link to the full text of the Timmons decision – opinion written by Justice Rehnquist:

I’m having difficulty trying to think of a legitimate democractic reason for banning it. As a practical matter, though, I think it would hurt rather than help a major party if it used it. I would suspect, for example, that a Democract endorsed by the Greens would turn off more voters in the center that he or she would pick up on the fringe.

Generally, that doesn’t happen, because in states with cross endorsements, there’s a real tendency for a minor party to endorse a major party candidate just so they can stay on the ballot.

Do you know of any examples? (According the NMEF website, only ten states allow fusion: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Vermont.)

Here’s something interesting: I just heard on the news that Ralph Nader has tapped Green Party leader Peter Camejo to be his running mate, which improves his chances of the getting the Green Party nomination (they haven’t chosen a nominee yet). Meanwhile, Nader has already been endorsed by the Reform Party (what’s left of it). So, except in the above ten states, Nader might have to choose whether to run as a Reform or Green candidate, but he can’t run as both . . . so he might make fusion one of his campaign issues, which will at least call a little bit of public attention to it.

Since I’m pretty sure neither the Reform or the Green party is on the ballot on every state, Nader can run as a Green in the states it’s on the ballot and Reform in other states.

As for examples, I only know about New York, and while the Conservatives boast that no Republican who hasn’t gotten the Conservative nomination has won statewide office in the past 24 years, and while Conservative party backing was probably why D’Amato got the Republican nomination over Javitz, 9 times out of 10, the Conservatives and Right to Life parties back the Republicans, while the Liberals used to back the Democrats (until the last election, which killed the Liberals)

In fact, this last election can be an example of the dillemna minor parties face with cross endorsement. The Liberals backed Cuomo for Governor, and then he dropped out of the race and backed McCall, who went on to get the Democratic nomination. So, when the election came around, the Liberals had somebody on the ballot who wasn’t even actively running, and they ended up not getting enough votes to stay on the ballot, and then fell apart as a party.

Okay, but maybe if New York had not allowed ballot fusion, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party both would have been marginalized to insignificance and forced to close up shop decades ago. I mean, in how many other states has either party ever been active?

It is, however, rather educational when the Right to Life party does not back a Republican. Speaking as a registered NY Republican… we have primaries limited to those registered to a party here, so it’s not worth registering anything but Pub or Dem… sometimes, it helps you figure out an obscure public figure’s stance in the voting booth itself.

The tool of cross-endorsement aided the Liberal and Conservative parties in New York, to keep “their” major party “in line” politically with their views. I.e., "If you don’t nominate someone we can support, we’ll take our endorsement to the other major party, or run a third candidate as a spoiler. Some interesting results have occurred here: John V. Lindsay became Mayor of New York City as a Republican with a Liberal endorsement; Jacob Javits was defeated as the liberal Republican candidate by James Buckley on an independent Conservative line. In the extremely small town of Pinckney, the Town Clerk was for several years a member of the Right-to-Life Party with Republican and sometimes Democratic endorsement – I believe nearly the only time a member of that party obtained and was re-elected to elective office.

Each party is exclusively a New York State party, the Conservatives having been founded to try to beat Nelson Rockefeller, and the Liberals having split off of the American Labor Party after the Communists took over the ALP.

And you’re right, if New York didn’t allow cross endorsement, both the Liberal and Conservative Parties would have probably not survived, but I don’t neccesarily see why their survival is a good thing.

I personally feel that they are a good thing, in that they give voters across the political spectrum a guarantee that they will have an actual choice, and one with at least a ghost of a chance of being elected. A major party will think long and hard before throwing away a significant proportion of their candidate’s voter base; ergo, a person who is likely to represent my political views, whatever they may be, is going to appear on the ballot, and not as merely a protest-issue candidate who may accrue a few more votes than Donald Duck (a perennial write-in candidate). When my wife and I ticket-split in New York, we customarily cast our votes for Governor for the major-party candidate we liked but on his secondary line, simply to do our part to enable the third party to remain ballotworthy for another four years. (Growing up a friend of the older son of the Liberal Party county chairman, and employed by a state commission whose nine members included the Conservative Party county chairman, influenced my views here to a very great extent.)

I would not be in favor of a system that gives Uncle Beer or Shodan the choice between a moderate liberal and a far-left-wing liberal, nor one that gives rjung a choice between a moderate conservative and someone who feels that Robert Welch is a Communist sympathizer. And New York’s third parties do precisely the job, in terms of practical politics, that ensures that is not the case.

Maybe, but from my personal experience (both my dad and HS Chemistry teacher were members of the party), I haven’t seen anybody more autocratic than the NYS Liberals. At least in recent history, they pretty much ignored upstate altogether, and, as far as I could tell, would nominate or endorse candates by a simple leadership vote, with no input by the party’s rank and file.

And philosophically I disagree with you, because I think that scrambling for endorsements from the little parties like that chases candidates away from the center. The Democrats (generally) find themselves forced to move left to get Liberal endorsement, and the Republicans (generally) find themselves forced to move right to get Conservative endorsement. This leaves those of us in the center no one to vote for, because we’re stuck choosing between somebody pushed left and somebody pushed right.

Why not?

What Polycarp means is that he doesn’t want a system where a conservative voter is forced to choose between someone who’s center-left and someone who’s far left, and a liberal voter doesn’t have to choose between someone far-right and center right, which is what a two party system could result in…he wants a political system where people across the political spectrum can vote for the candidate whose views are close to theirs.

Well, that’s what I want too – a multiparty system where you can vote for whatever party or candidate you want to without “wasting” your vote. Which is why I’ve started these threads on fusion and instant-runoff voting, and posted in ready29003’s thread on proportional representation.

Right, I know. He was criticizing me, who said that I don’t think the survival of minor parties is neccesarily a good thing, and not you.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere! Let’s debate that! Why do you not think the survival of minor parties is necessarily a good thing?

Or – let’s scrap the term “minor parties,” which implies there are still two big parties with a horde of minor ones tugging at their cuffs. What I’m hoping for, what we should all be hoping for, is an America with a genuine multiparty political system where there are five or six parties of roughly equivalent prominence, plus the “minor” ones. So tell me: Why is a two-party system (assuming that’s what we’ve got now . . .) better than a multiparty system?

Because a multipower system is less stable and inflates the power of minority and extremist views. If you have ten seperate parties, and none of them commands a majorty or govern on its own, you’ll end up stuck with coalition governments that last only so long as all parties concerned decide it’s a good idea to stay in the coalition.

In addition, a small, single issue party, can push through unpopular policies. The example that comes to mind is Israel, where some of the country’s religious policies (like giving exemptions from military service to the Haredim) are pretty unpopular. But there’s a religious party that supports it, and they get enough votes from the Haredim to give them seats in the Knesset. So, each time a new goverment forms, the party says to either Likud or Labour, “Hey, we’ll join your coalition and all we want is that you preserve the exemption” So, the larger party says “Hop on board, and we won’t touch the exemption.” So, the exemption stays, even though it’s not popular, because the government knows that if they try to get rid of it, they’ll lose a coalition partner and the government could be brought down.

I think you’re wrong on several points here, Captain.

First of all, a multiparty system is actually more stable than what we’ve got now.

That might sound counterintuitive. Suppose we adopt ballot fusion, and instant-runoff-voting, and proportional representation. Won’t those reforsm lead to the two big parties breaking up along their natural fault lines, new ones forming, shifting alliances, massive political instability and unpredictability?

Yes, in the short term. But consider: Each political grouping has a limited “target market,” a limited number of voters who sympathize with it and might be persuaded to support it. After a few years under PR, each party will have achieved total “market saturation,” recruited pretty much all of its potential support base. And after that point, there will be no more “electoral revolutions” --change will be slow and incremental. Elections will be a matter of a given party gaining or losing just a few percentage points of support. In each party, there will be a solid core of committed supporters, and a fringe of not-so-commited supporters who might go one way or another – e.g., if there is a large Libertarian Party, distinct from a purely business-oriented Republican Party, then there will be a few “swing voters” between them who might, in any given election, go Libertarian or Republican – but never, ever, Green or Socialist.

By contrast, in our present system the only “swing voters” are those hovering about the country’s ideological center-of-gravity. And they have influence far out of proportion to their numbers – which leads to instability. In 1994 we had an electoral “revolution,” putting Republicans in control of both houses of Congress --even though the aggregate national Republican vote exceeded the Democratic vote by less than one-half of one percent. That makes the balance of power unstable and unpredictable.

As for the “coalition governments” problem – it only arises in countries that have a parliamentary system, where the legislators must put together a majority to “form a government.” We don’t have that, we have a separation-of-powers system where the president or governor is elected separately and makes his or her own cabinet appointments.

If we had a multiparty political system, I expect legislative “coalitions” would form, but they would be momentary and issue-specific.

E.g., suppose a scenario where the parties represented in Congress are the following:

  1. Republican Party – a remnant left after the religious-social conservatives, the libertarians, and the nativistist-isolationist-populists all split off and go their own way. This party would be more purely (and more obviously) the party of established business interests and of agressive foreign-policy neoconservatism. Pro-choice on abortion.

  2. America First Party – Pat Buchanan’s new party. It already exists, but if we moved to PR it might find itself augmented by a mass exodus from the Republican Party. Nativist-isolationist-populist, with a solid base in working-class religious people, especially Roman Catholics like Buchanan himself. Socially conservative, against immigration, but also hostile to big business, economic globalization, NAFTA, WTO, and American military adventures abroad. Hostile to the Iraq War, hostile to American support of Israel.

  3. Constitution Party – the party of the Religious Right. Already exists, might get bigger. Rooted in Southern Evangelical Protestantism. Agenda would be as it is now – ban abortion, revive school prayer, support vouchers and home schooling, etc. Also would be supportive, for religious reasons, of American support of Israel and military intervention in the Middle East.

  4. Libertarian Party – again, still exists, would get bigger. Different from the Republican Party in being pro**-market,** not pro-business – would deregulate businesses, but also would refuse to bail out foundering corporations or award sweetheart porkbarrel contracts. Also hostile to the national-security state, the military-industrial complex, and foreign military adventuring.

  5. Democratic Party – again, a remnant, after several groupings now under the Dem “big tent” go their own way. This party would represent “neoliberalism,” economic globalization, the politics of Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council. Socially liberal but inclined to ally with the Republicans on business-related issues.

  6. Labor Party – a party rooted in working-class people who are more liberal than the America Firsters, but still pretty socially conservative. Centered on the labor unions and devoted to fighting for working-class interests. Would be pro-choice on abortion but with reservations.

  7. Green Party – environmentalist, tinged with a concern for “social justice” that differs from most models of socialism in being highly decentralist.

  8. Progressive Party – a party for all the real “leftists” in American politics, other than the Greens – communists, socialists, social democrats, radical feminists. Similar to the Labor Party, but different in being more socially liberal.

  9. Independence Party – again, already exists – this and the America First Party are one of two groups that emerged when the Reform Party split. This is the party of John Anderson – and Jesse Ventura, in Minnesota. As with some others, might get bigger if we adopted IRV and PR. It would be “Progressive” in the older, early-20th-century sense of the term – devoted to good government, honest, transparent, vigorous and effective government, but also fiscal responsibility with no deficit spending. Devoted to a technocratic, professional vision of government that purports to transcend ideology, class interests and partisanship – an old Progressive slogan was, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to pave a street.” Would agree with the Libertarians on most social issues.

Now, if we had all these parties in Congress, they might align in different ways on different issues.

E.g., if you introduce legislation to drastically pare down America’s defense spending, the Progressives, the Greens, the Libertarians, and the America First Party all would support it. The Republicans and the Constitution Party would be against it. The Democrats, the Independence Party and the Labor Party might be split.

If you introduced a bill to recognize gay marriage, the Greens, Progressives, Independence Party and Libertarians would be for it. The Constitution Party and the America Firsters would be against it. The Democrats, Republicans, and Labor Party might be split and might push for a compromise solution like “civil unions.”

If you proposed legalizing marijuana, the Republicans might be open to the idea (as presenting new opportunities for the tobacco industry to branch into a new product). The Progressives would require only that the new marijuana industry be properly regulated and taxed. Libertarians, Greens and Independence would support it. The America First and Constitution parties would be against it. Labor might be split.

If you introduced some strict new environmental-protection legislation, the Greens and Progressives would be for it, the Libertarians and the Republicans would be against it, and everybody else would want to carefully study each element of the proposal before making up their minds. E.g., Labor would be environmentalist in principle but they wouldn’t want to do anything that might eliminate jobs.

And so on.

In each case, nothing actually gets done unless a given proposal can muster support from enough different groupings to make up a voting majority.

And if there’s “logrolling” – e.g., the Libertarians agreeing to support Republican proposal X only if the Republicans support decriminalizing pot – what’s wrong with that? We’ve got logrolling now. This change just adds more logs.

While all this is going on, we still have only one president in the White House – a president who probably won on a “fusion” ticket, being the acceptable choice of several different parties who have agreed more or less to work together, at least for this election cycle. Sometimes the president would be a joint choice of the Democrats and Republicans, and would solidly favor globalization and business interests. Sometimes he might be a Labor-America First nominee and always support the interests of the working class. Sometimes he might be an America First-Constitution choice and fight for social conservatism. Or a Green-Progressive-Labor president who would be socially liberal and fight for the working class and environmental protection. But, at any rate, only one president at a time, steering the ship of state in one direction – which direction would be a vector sum, just like now, but involving more vectors than are in play now.

Is this an unworkable system?

Errmm . . . sorry, counted wrong – there are nine parties in the above hypothetical situation, not eight. (We ought to have a blushing smiley.)