One of the most interesting election reform bills this session is HB 3040, which would restore the once legal, now forgotten electoral system called “fusion voting”. The fusion voting bill has broad bipartisan sponsorship, with fifteen co-sponsors from left, right and middle. I am pleased to be one of those sponsors.
Fusion voting cuts through and clarifies where a candidate stands on key issues. It encourages the formation of genuine coalitions on important issues, and it provides voters with an exciting tool to help legislators know which issues they care most about without diminishing the value of their vote by voting for a third party candidate who is unlikely to win.
Fusion voting is a simple reform that permits more than one party to nominate the same candidate. It is sometimes called “cross-endorsement”, as one party (almost always a minor party) crosses over to endorse a major party candidate. Voters are in effect choosing a candidate AND a party as a way of signaling their support for both the best person and the most important issues. It’s a way for a voter to say not just who should serve, but what they should focus on once in office.
Here’s how it works. When I run for re-election, I could seek the nomination of the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party. This co-nomination would inform voters that I am a Democrat who is particularly interested in standing up for working people and their rights, including the right to collective self-defense through collective bargaining...increasing the minimum wage...providing access to universal health care, etc.
Likewise, my colleague Rep. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) might choose to seek the nomination of the Republic Party and, say, the Oregon Taxpayers Party if the no-new-taxes crowd decided to create a party.
The great advantage to fusion is that it encourages independent voters to participate without diminishing the value of their votes. Votes for a single candidate from the different parties are tallied separately, and then combined for that candidate's total. Fusion is America's version of proportional representation, encouraging the formation of coalitions before rather than after the election.
In the late 1800's, fusion voting was legal throughout the country. In the Northwest, fusion was associated with the Democratic-Populist/worker-farmer alliances of that era. In the South, it was Republican-Populist fusion tickets against the racist Jim Crow forces. Many state legislatures, including Oregon's, eliminated fusion voting more than a hundred years ago precisely because it encouraged electoral coalition-building among the less powerful.
Under our present system, the only way for independent voters, political minorities and minor parties to get noticed is by “spoiling” – withholding enough votes from the candidate their constituency would otherwise support, delivering victory for that candidate’s opponent. But many voters who agree with the platform of a minor party do not want to diminish their voting power on a candidate who has little chance of winning. In New York and Connecticut, two states where fusion voting is legal and used frequently, experience and research demonstrate that fusion helps engage infrequent voters, younger voters and other groups most alienated from the political process. Fusion also increases candidate accountability and therefore encourages voter participation.
Fusion voting is presently legal in seven states. There is a movement afoot in a number of other states, including Oregon, to bring fusion voting back. All it would take here is a simple statutory change allowing a party to nominate any qualified candidate regardless of their party registration status. Of course, the candidate has to accept the nomination. Minor parties would still be free to run their own candidates or to stay out of a particular election altogether.
HB 3040 has been voted out of the House Elections, Rules and Ethics Committee with a "do-pass" recommendation. Last Wednesday, June 13, it had a hearing in the Joint Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Brian Boquist and I both testified in support. It is a simple, effective and low cost electoral reform that gives us a rare chance to increase voter participation and voter choice and expand our democracy. Please ask your State Representatives and Senators to join me in supporting fusion voting, HB 3040.