Fusion voting allows political candidates to be nominated by multiple political parties. In this guide, we’ll explore how fusion voting is implemented, where this voting system is used, and how fusion voting impacts both major- and minor-party candidates.
Fusion voting, sometimes also called electoral fusion, allows a candidate to be nominated by more than one political party. Depending on the election, this usually allows the candidate's name to appear on the ballot multiple times. Note that the legal framework for fusion voting varies by state.
Fusion voting can provide a strategic opportunity for third-party candidates, who can seek endorsements from multiple political parties. For example, a candidate could be endorsed both by one of the major parties, the Republicans and Democrats, and by a minor party. This system allows candidates to more fully express their political affiliation, without giving up the support of the major parties.
When voters show up to vote on election day, they may find a candidate’s name listed in multiple places on the ballot. They can vote under any of those listings. In the end, the candidate receives the total number of votes cast for them.
Electoral fusion is not legal in all locations in the United States. Some form of electoral fusion currently exists in five states:
Fusion voting is often more prevalent in smaller races, such as the election for New York City Council. Additionally, there are two main kinds of fusion voting: disaggregated or full fusion voting, and aggregated or partial fusion voting.
Connecticut and New York use disaggregated or full fusion voting. In this system, a candidate’s name can appear on the ballot multiple times. If a candidate has been nominated by two parties, then the candidate’s name will appear twice on the ballot. When the votes are tallied, all votes for the same candidate are added together, creating a sum total. Disaggregated fusion voting is also legal in Mississippi, though not currently in use.
Oregon and Vermont use aggregated or partial fusion voting. In this system, each candidate’s name appears just one time on the ballot. Candidates who have nominations from multiple parties will have a list of those parties beside their name.
Meanwhile, other states have banned the use of fusion voting. Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, and South Carolina have all banned electoral fusion.
One of the earliest examples showcasing how fusion voting works was the 1896 presidential run of William Jennings Bryan. In this historic election, voters who lived in rural America generally supported Bryan, while those living in cities more often gravitated toward Grover Cleveland. Bryan's candidacy was supported by the Populists and Democrats.
Another example of electoral fusion includes candidates supported by the Liberal Party of New York. This party, which was formed in 1944, has supported candidates that they feel most closely align with their values of abortion rights, the elimination of the death penalty, marriage equality, and the need for alternative voting methods. Throughout history, they have joined forces with many candidates. For example, the Liberal Party of New York joined forces with Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy and Republican presidential nominee Nelson Rockefeller.
There are many fusion voting examples from recent history in New York, helping to strengthen the independent movement and build the case for alternative voting methods. Since the turn of the millennium, New York has been among the most notable places to use fusion voting, allowing candidates to seek cross-party endorsements to enhance their electoral prospects.
One recent example involves the Working Families Party. While often running their own candidates for New York City Council, the party often supports Democrats for national offices.
The legality of electoral fusing in New York has provided a unique landscape where candidates, through cross-party endorsements, can harness third-party influence and leverage diverse political affiliations to reach a broader voter base. This nuanced approach to electoral fusion has played a role in shaping the state's political dynamics, offering candidates alternative strategies to navigate the complex terrain of electoral competition.
Additionally, even in states where fusion voting is illegal or not used, candidates have often worked together to gain support from a wider base. In some cases, parties that realize that their potential candidate has no clear path to victory, have told their followers which other candidate most closely aligns with their values.
Before 1893, electoral fusion was very common in the U.S. electoral system. South Dakota was the first state to eliminate candidates being endorsed by more than one party. Over the next eight years, other states with Republican state legislators joined South Dakota's lead to change the U.S. electoral system. Their purpose was to stop Democrats from working with third-party candidates.
Over a hundred years later, the question remains: is fusion voting worth reviving?
While candidates affiliated with a major party often find it easier to win elections, more and more Americans are declaring themselves to be politically independent. According to the most recent Gallup polling, 43% of Americans now identify as independent, meaning they may be more willing to support third-party candidates.
These voters’ belief systems often align with third-party candidates who challenge established political affiliations, contribute to the growth of the independent movement, and demonstrate the need for electoral reform. The trend towards political independence is especially strong among Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.
Winning a nomination or endorsement often means an inflow of cash that can be vital in larger elections and in tightly contested contests. Fusing political endorsements often means even more operating capital for candidates, including funds gained through cross-endorsement.
Federal judge Lynn Alderman has made some major points about why electoral fusion should be the law in more places. He points out that often, third-party candidates bring the public's attention to issues often ignored by the major parties, including the need for electoral reform. Alderman points to the examples of Greenback Party (which supported the buying of government bonds, women's suffrage, federal regulation of interstate commerce, and a graduated income tax) and the Prohibition Party (which calls for more support for addiction programs, the end of alcohol advertising, and stronger laws restricting the commercial traffic of alcohol, tobacco, and other recreational drugs).
Alderman writes that the way fusion voting works forces major-party candidates to be more responsive to voters and to exploring alternative voting methods, like cross-endorsement and understanding the nuances of fusion voting legality. While many voters fear that they will waste their vote when voting for a minor-party candidate, fusion voting allows voters to send a message to their preferred political party while eliminating this fear, promoting diverse political affiliations and truer representation.
Fusion voting also encourages the major parties to select candidates that will align with most of their voter base. Therefore, candidates must be willing to draw distinctions between themselves before voters head to the polls.
Fusion voting has both advantages and disadvantages as an electoral system. Here are the main points that are often argued by those who oppose the implementation of fusion voting:
Fusion voting can increase the influence and visibility of minor parties. While some might see this effect as an advantage, others see it as a disadvantage.
Some argue that fusion voting decreases the level of competition between political parties, because smaller parties can benefit from the greater popularity of larger parties.
Some argue against aggregated or partial fusion voting in particular, saying that this system does not allow voters to express the fullness of their political preference and priorities.
Finally, some argue that minor parties do not have the right to associate with major-party candidates.
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