In the first two posts, I tried to make the case for “fusion” voting as something that will really help liberals, progressives, labor, enviros, anti-poverty activists, climate change campaigners, you name it. Today I’ll try to make the case for fusion as a good reform that Democrats as a party should favor.
But a quick reminder if you’re just joining: “fusion” is a simple election reform that allows voters to vote for a candidate on more than one party line.
In New York, Governor Eliot Spitzer won last year running on both the Democratic and Working Families lines. The 155,000 New Yorkers who voted for him on the Working Families line were helping elect a Democrat and end 12 years of Republican misrule in Albany, but they were also helping to build an independent progressive third party and signal that they wanted the new governor to focus on the economic interests of working people – affordable health care, stronger unions, fairer taxes and support for working parents. One result – Gubernatorial support for a universal Paid Family Leave program.
For progressives, fusion is a no-brainer. And it will be even more so in the – knock on wood! – coming era of Democratic dominance on a national level. We’ll be constantly faced with the choice of devoting our energy to supporting the Democrats or maintaining an independent presence to their left. Fusion lets us do both.
But what’s in it for the Democrats?
Fusion was once legal in all 50 states but is now banned in all but half a dozen. Why should legislators in Maine or Oregon or Colorado or New Mexico want re-legalize it?
I don’t want to overclaim, but as it turns out, there are several good reasons for Democratic elected officials to favor the re-legalization of fusion voting. The impact of fusion is at the margins – even in New York, Working Families has never reached even 5 percent of the statewide vote (though we will soon!) But plenty of elections are decided by just a few percentage points. How can fusion move those critical last points to good, progressive Dems?
First, by attracting independents and “Reagan” Democrats. They may not like the Democratic Party, but they like the idea of a third party that advocates for things like universal health care and higher wages. Second, by attracting “greens” and other progressives who want to “send a message” to the Democrats from the left without spoiling. Third, by bringing new voters into the political process. And fourth, by fostering creation of fusion parties like the WFP, which, if I can boast a moment, runs one of the best grassroots electoral operations in the country.
I’m going to start by talking about the second piece – fusion as a tool for attracting progressives and solving the “spoiler” problem. Tomorrow I’ll turn to the even-more-important question of independents and new voters.
The left. Also known as solving the Nader problem. But actually, spoiling is a persistent problem, not a freak occurrence in 2000. . In New Mexico, the Green vote exceeded the Republicans’ margin of victory in the 1994 Governor’s race and again in a 1998 Congressional race. In the latter race, if even half the Green voters had supported the Dem, he would have won. More recently, several well-meaning but not very strategic Green candidates in Maine have enabled Republicans to win elections they would have almost certainly lost. (On the right, Libertarians have done the same thing to the advantage of Democrats, but in general spoiling is a much bigger problem for our side].)
I hasten to say, I don’t especially blame Green (or Libertarian) voters. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do in a democracy – coming out and supporting the party they believe in. The problem is an electoral system that means their votes have the exact opposite effect of what they intended.
With fusion, they would have another choice – support both their preferred party and a candidate who can actually win. Some voters will still choose to vote for the third-party candidate, of course, but most would prefer not to vote for a spoiler if there’s another way to support a progressive third party. That’s certainly the case in New York, where many Green Party voters have migrated to the Working Families Party, and in so doing are helping to “green up” the WFP’s identity. Most citizens prefer to cast a meaningful vote than a purely symbolic protest vote, if there’s a principled way to do it.
It’s undeniable that if we’d had fusion and a Working Families-type party in Florida in 2000, we’d now be in the seventh year of a Gore presidency. That’s why important leaders of the Democratic Party – people like Chuck Schumer -- are active supporters of fusion. They don’t agree with us on everything– but they know that in the big fights we’re on the same side. And they know that an independent fusion party brings something they vitally need in close races – credibility with the small but active and energetic group of voters who want to send a message to the Democrats.
Small, however, is a key word. I don’t mean to dismiss progressives – I’m one myself. But we aren’t where the big game is. That’s in the “center,” with swing voters, especially the “Reagan Democrats” (anyone ever hear of a Kerry Republican?), working-class voters who are with the Dems on economic issues but won’t vote for them because of their (real or perceived) stances on hot-button issues like gun control or prayer in schools. Fusion helps there too, and the potential gains are even bigger. So that will be the subject of my next post.
Join the discussion. Do you think we need a way to put pressure on Democrats while still electing them to office?