The Case for Fusion
It’s come to light in recent that both parties are having a significant issue with their bases feeling disenfranchised. After the presumptive nominations of Donald Trump on the Republican side and Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side, many conservatives and liberals may not be real comfortable with the direction their parties are going in any longer. Here in Maryland people have the opportunity at this point to both only for Republicans or for Democrats, which these days may be marginalizing for conservatives and liberals who no longer agree with their party standard bearer.
However there is an idea that would make Maryland a leader in providing alternative choices to Maryland voters, something that might actually increase voter participation and address the issue of voters who no longer wish to affiliate with a party.
For over 70 years in New York State, voters have had the opportunity to participate in what’s called fusion voting. In fusion voting, a candidate may be nominated from more than one party. For example the Republican candidate for Congress may also be nominated by the Conservative Party of New York. This gives voters multiple opportunities to make sure that their ideology or their values are accounted for at the ballot box. Often times the Republican nominee is also nominated under the Conservative banner. However, this also allows for there to be an ideological check on Republican candidates in New York State. When the Republican candidate is too liberal for the base, the Conservative Party often withholds their endorsement. This does have the effect of limiting the viability of a liberal Republican to win an election. This is why, for example that no Republican in New York has won a statewide election without the Conservative Party seal of approval since 1974. In 2009, a hotly contested special election in New York District 23, the Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman nearly won the election after the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, was deemed too liberal, dropped out of the race, and endorsed the Democrat. Regardless of the outcome, the message was received and conservative voters had the opportunity to cast their vote for a candidate that shared their values, regardless of who the Republican nominee actually was.
Many Marylanders would probably relish the opportunity to engage in fusion voting. This would give greater voice to candidates such across the board, including the Green Party, the Libertarian Party the Constitution Party or other new parties that meet the threshold to become a party here in Maryland. Right now there is really no impetus for a new party to be created because the threshold to obtain and retain ballot status is so high to achieve. The new party has to get approximately 10,000 signatures to obtain ballot status, and then must get 1% of the vote in a statewide election in order to maintain that status. However if candidates run as fusion candidates, voters will have the opportunity to cast their vote for the same candidate, but have it count towards the total for their chosen party. For example, if the candidate with the nominee about the Democratic Party and the Green Party, a voter would have their ballot counted in support of the Democratic nominee but can vote for that candidate on the Green Party line in order to ensure that the Green Party maintains their ballot status to promote their own candidates and their own issues when warranted. In order to run as the candidate of multiple parties, candidates have to get an approval (known in New York as a Wilson Pakula) from the party leadership of any party that they are not a member of in order to contest their primary election.
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The likelihood of fusion voting coming to Maryland anytime soon is reasonably low. Any such change would have to be adopted by the General Assembly, and we know that the General Assembly is loath to introduce a new ideas that may be detrimental to Democratic hegemony in the General Assembly as we have seen with Democratic resistance to Governor Larry Hogan’s commonsense redistricting reforms. However the idea fusion voting does fit in nicely with Governor Hogan’s idea of governmental reform and is a way to make elections more fair and accessible to the people of Maryland. This is the type of good government idea that can and should receive bipartisan support to make sure conservatives, liberals and everybody in between really has the opportunity to have their voices heard, and to have candidates that represent their issues and their values on the ballot to be part of the meaningful discussion in Maryland political discourse.