Rethinking Democracy

Ideas and ideals worth watching

| March / April 2006

During the 2000 election, Ralph Nader managed to get on the ballot as a Green Party-endorsed presidential candidate and have a major impact on the results. Many Gore voters blamed Nader, and by extension the Green Party, for Bush's victory. As a result, third parties found themselves relegated to the margins, and a number of organized, progressive voices were muted in 2004.

Looking toward the 2006 election, it turns out there is a way for third parties to endorse candidates who support their issues, to have an impact on results, and to avoid being dubbed 'spoilers.'

It's called 'fusion voting' or 'ballot fusion,' and it's once again gaining in popularity. The idea is to allow a candidate to be endorsed by multiple parties and appear on a ballot multiple times, which, besides giving marginal candidates a better chance of forming a coalition, allows third parties to strategically support major-party candidates. By choosing to mark a candidate's name on a minor-party line, citizens can both vote for a winner and show their support for a particular set of issues.

Fusion was legal until the early 1900s, reports Alyssa Katz in The Nation (Sept. 12, 2005), when the Democratic and Republican parties erected greater barriers to third parties. The practice remains legal in seven states, most notably New York, where the Working Families Party, founded in 1998 by a coalition of labor unions and community groups, has been using ballot fusion with remarkable success.

The WFP has recently branched out to Connecticut, another legal fusion state, and is looking to export fusion to more states. The party's Massachusetts chapter has qualified a ballot measure that would legalize fusion in the Bay State this fall.

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