Project Wonderful

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fusion Voting: I've been meaning to talk to you about that.

Start this video at 1:32

Did you know that New York has Fusion Voting? Okay, back up. Do you know what Fusion Voting is? It's cool. I didn't either until I applied for a job with The Working Families Party in 2009. I've been meaning to write about Fusion Voting (also called Electoral Fusion) since I started this blog. Talking with colleagues this week about the rules we create when setting up electoral systems resparked my interest.

Here's how it works: WFP, or another third party, endorses a candidate already in the race. For WFP it is usually, but not always, a Democrat. Voters can vote for the candidate on either the Democratic or the Working Families Party line, and the votes for the candidate from both lines are tallied together. For example, if candidate X receives 30% of the total votes cast on the Democratic Party line and 20% of the total votes on the WFP line, while candidate Y receives 45% of the total votes on the Republican line, candidate X still wins!

In a country where we have first past the post, as opposed to party list proportional representation, critics argue that Fusion Voting doesn't make much of a difference. Voters who would have voted for the candidate on one line vote for her on the other, but ultimately the result is the same. But Fusion Voting allows voters to voice discontent with the two big political parties without "spoiling" the election ala Ralph Nader in 2000. It also allows a party like WFP to put its resources (particularly its spectacular paid canvass) behind candidates that actually have a chance of winning. Because WFP does not endorse in every election, a WFP endorsement does hold some weight in and of itself, signifying to educated voters that the endorsed candidate is someone who will take working class issues seriously. At the same time it holds elected officials accountable to these voters and their interests. A large percentage of the winner's vote on the WFP line sends the message "you were elected to fight for minimum wage, health care, affordable housing, etc and you better do it or next time you may not be so lucky."

Watch the video from 1:32 to 4:52 for a great explanation of Fusion Voting as well as the reason it is now only legal in 8 states (hint: special interests). Fusion Voting does not solve all the problems inherit in our electoral system, but it does ameliorate some. I think most Americans who pay attention would agree that we've created a system so entangled in special interests and money that it's hard to see how to pull ourselves up out the rabbit hole. So while Fusion Voting might not solve everything, at this point in our electoral history, are we in a position to turn a good idea down?

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