Push for fusion voting in New Jersey didn’t end with Rep. Tom Malinowski’s loss
Polls say we are fed up with America's political system — is fusion voting the answer? (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
New Jerseyans want fusion voting.
That’s the takeaway from a new poll, anyway, one conducted by Braun Research on behalf of Washington-based think tank New America Foundation. The poll surveyed 800 New Jersey residents about political polarization, the two-party system, and fusion voting, and found that 81% of respondents think the two-party system is not working as it should and 68% said fusion voting can better express citizens’ views.
OK, yes, the poll New America commissioned aligns neatly with the group’s own support of fusion voting, which allows a candidate to appear on the ballot as a nominee of multiple parties. But when you look at how long Americans have expressed dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the United States, the results have a ring of truth. The last time Gallup’s poll on that issue found satisfaction above 50% was January 2004.
“Many voters feel like they don’t really love either party. They want more options,” Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America’s political reform program, told me.
Drutman, who summarized the poll results in a report for New America, is author of the book “Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America.” So he’s clearly not a fan of the two parties’ control of our political system. Still, he said, the poll’s results gave him a bit of a shock.
“Even within my expectations of how bad things are and how dissatisfied voters across the country are with their lack of choices, the widespread acknowledgment that our two-party system appears to be fundamentally broken still surprised me a bit,” he said.
Fusion voting is not common in the United States, available to voters in only a few states like New York and Connecticut. But folks like Drutman want to bring it to the Garden State.
At least one lawsuit is working its way through the courts now — fusion advocates sued New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way when she would not allow Rep. Tom Malinowski’s name to appear on November’s ballot as the nominee of the Democratic and Moderate parties — and more lawsuits are expected.
Some fusion voting advocates had hoped it would help Malinowski win a third term two weeks ago. But the courts here don’t work that quickly, and both sides agreed to punt the issue to after the election (Malinowski lost to Tom Kean Jr.).
Here’s how fusion works: Imagine I’m running for mayor of Bloomfield as a Republican. If, say, the Liberal Party also endorsed me, I’d appear on the ballot as a Republican nominee and as the Liberal Party nominee. The latter endorsement might help win me some Democratic voters who otherwise wouldn’t dare vote for the GOP. That’s, in part, how Rudy Guiliani first won election as mayor of New York City, where voters have fusion as an option.
So, if voters are so disenchanted with the two parties, why aren’t they voting for third parties? The Libertarian who ran in the 5th Congressional District this year won about 1,200 votes. The two major-party candidates, Democratic winner Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Republican Frank Pallotta, won 263,000+ total.
I asked Drutman about this, and he said voters understand you need a plurality to win and most third-party candidates can’t get close. Fusion allows a major-party candidate to form a winning coalition with like-minded voters.
“However you feel about Democrats or Republicans, chances are you feel very strongly that one of the two of them is the lesser of two evils, and you don’t want to be supporting the worse of two evils by throwing your vote away,” he said.
Beau Tremitiere, an attorney at nonprofit Protect Democracy, represents two voters in the fusion case against the secretary of state. Tremitiere said one benefit of fusion voting would be to limit candidates’ ability to pretend to moderate their stances after winning their party’s nomination.
We saw lots of examples of this nationwide just a few weeks ago, when Republicans who had run in their primaries as firmly anti-abortion tried to moderate their stances to appeal to pro-choice voters in the general election. Here in New Jersey, Kean won a crowded GOP primary after Republicans boasted of his support of Donald Trump’s agenda — then he played the “Trump who?” game during his campaign in the general election.
Critics of fusion voting have said this kind of ballot — with one candidate appearing twice — would baffle voters.
“It should be called confusion voting, not fusion voting,” Democratic consultant Steve Ayscue said. “Who do they think they’re kidding? Why complicate a very simple process?”
Tremitiere thinks that’s nonsense.
“New Jersey voters are smart and adaptable,” he told me. “And there is nothing confusing about permitting a voter to specify which nominating party better represents the reasons why they are voting for a candidate. There are cross-nominations on the ballot every year in New York and Connecticut, without issue. Why would New Jersey be any different?
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Terrence T. McDonald