Fusion voting moves forward in the special session

By Barb Dudley of Portland, Oregon. Barb is the co-chair of the Oregon Working Families Party. Previously, she contributed "The argument for a Working Families Party in Oregon"

One of the more hopeful bills in the current Supplemental Legislative Session is SB 1102, introduced by Senator Brad Avakian, and supported by all of the Democratic candidates for Secretary of State as well as a broad bipartisan cross-section of both Houses. The bill has been heard by the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee and passed out with a "do pass" recommendation. It is now on the Senate President' desk awaiting further action.

The only opposition to SB 1102 has come from the County Clerks Association, who have raised the specter of vast voter confusion, ballot clutter, and rampant minor party anarchy. The Clerks don't think Oregon voters will understand fusion voting without a massively expensive ($750,000!) education campaign.

Fusion voting is a simple electoral reform which gives minor parties the option to cross-nominate a candidate from a major party if that candidate supports their issues. The votes on each party line are tallied separately and then added together for that candidate's total. It has not been my experience that Oregonians find that so hard to understand.

Fusion voting was legal throughout the country in the 19th century. Today fusion voting is legal in seven states, and used actively in four states: New York, Connecticut, South Carolina and Delaware. The latter three states have fairly recently begun using fusion voting. It has been the experience of elections officials and voters alike in those states that fusion is a fairly simple, straightforward voting method that is easily understood by voters, and not terribly burdensome to elections officials. Statements from those election officials and much more can be found at a Study on Cost and Technical Considerations of Fusion Voting.

When fusion was legal in Oregon in the 19th century, it provided a way for rural and urban voters to come together on issues which they shared in common -- populist issues which affected family farmers, ranchers, loggers, and urban wage earners alike. This is an era when we could very much use that common voice, when rural and urban Oregonians need to come together to find solutions to the issues that plague the state, from land use planning to health care reform.

Fusion voting is not the solution to all that ails the state, but it is a part of the solution. With fusion ballots, voters can focus on the issues which unite them, not the issues which divide. Voters can vote with the Party which best represents their views on issues, while making a coalition with other voters in other parties to support a particular candidate. That way the voters can make their views known and the candidates, and legislators, can have a more accurate view of what their constituents want and expect.

The people of this state do not all fit neatly into one of the two major parties. Over 25% of them are not affiliated with either major party. And only 67% of the voting age population is registered to vote at all. Oregon voters can be very thoughtful, and certainly have many opinions, and yet under the current system, they can only participate in the electoral process in a consequential way if they vote Republican or Democrat. Many Oregonians clearly want more choices, but don't want to throw their vote away or act as spoilers. Fusion gives them this opportunity, while focusing their attention and that of the legislators whom they elect on the issues which matter most to them.

Not all minor parties will exercise the option to fuse with a major party's candidate. Some will continue to run stand-alone candidates. But the fusion option means that the possibility of compromise and coalition is available, and that option makes it more likely that compromise will be reached in the legislature.

Many proposals have been considered here in Oregon and around the nation to address the questions of voter alienation, partisan divisions, and legislative logjams. Here in Oregon, proposals for top-two primaries and even a nonpartisan state legislature have been promoted by some as a solution to partisan stand-offs. The problem with nonpartisan elections is that the voters have very little to go by when deciding whom to vote for, and this leads to voter apathy. Party affiliations give information to the voter about the stances a candidate will take on certain issues. Fusion voting allows the voter to express their opinion on issues through their choice of party, but also to form coalitions with other parties on the dominant issues of the day.

Voters want more options, they want to participate constructively in the political process, and they want their views and opinions to be acknowledged and taken into account. They do not want their votes to be wasted, and they do not want to act as "spoilers." Fusion voting provides a responsible and constructive solution to this need.

Help pass SB 1102 ... call your Legislators today.

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    Yay fusion! This time I think it's gonna pass. Should be great for the minor parties in Oregon, and take some of the spoiler temptation out of the mix. Might give the Libertarians some new life if their worth to the Republicans became quantifiable. Same with the Greens, who have become passe on the left IMO. Populist environmentalism would have a more coherent voice. And I think Working Families will draw new registrants very well once they're seen on the ballot endorsing candidates on their own issue slate.

    Let's return to Oregon's populist electoral roots and get fusion going again!

  • BCM (unverified)

    Beware Oregon, Barb Dudley is attempting to lure you into her cauldron of ineffectiveness.

    Conveniently left out of this lofty appraisal is the Italian electoral system, where the government collapses every two years because of the broad coalitions tethered together by an 'electoral fusion' type system.

    Of course, Italy has a multi-party system and we do not, but the idea is still the same. The American political system is intended to generate consensus-Republican or Democrat-not stand the test of a broad spectrum of irreconcilable differences.

    Granted in Oregon minor parties are relatively weak. People generally choose to join them for very specific, strongly held beliefs. For the Pacific Green Party that belief is environmentalism.

    Say the PGP supports Democrats. Sure they'll be willing to go for a ride on most fronts. But, if an environmental issue arises, you can be sure they will make their voices heard, which isn't a bad thing, unless you're trying to generate consensus. Quid pro quo: they are going to want something in return for their votes. So all of a sudden it's no longer two parties hashing it out, it's (DPO + PGP + Working Families) v. (ORP + Constitution + Libertarian).

    We have enough problems as it is reaching 'compromise' between Democrats and Republicans. Fusion voting would add layers of 'compromising' to our legislative process, thus making it nearly impossible to get anything done. It would be a disaster for Oregon.

  • Dudley DoWrong (unverified)

    Thank you, BCM. You are right on many fronts.

    When she stumps for her Working Families Party, Dudley is openly and consistently derisive of the Democratic Party's commitment to working people and claims that the Working Party is the only party that will stand with working people. Her line of attack dates back well before the 2006 elections.

    Fusion voting is designed to put a political gun to the head of Democratic elected officials who dare to consider being independent. In Dudley's case, it's trade policy that motivates her. For the Pacific Green Party, it's often the environment, but other issues, as well. I happen to agree with both Dudley and the Greens on a heck of a lot on issues, but I don't crave additional power to punish and threaten good Democrats when they happen to occasionally take a vote I disagree with. If someone is voting wrong, we already have a way to punish those people -- it's called a primary.

    What's that Mr. Blumenauer? You dare to consider voting for a free trade agreement on occasion when you think it's in the public interest? Betsy Johnson and Brad Witt, you dare to support jobs for your constituents with the LNG plant? Kulongoski and Wyden, you actually favor limited logging on public forests? DeFazio, you don't want people who came to this country illegally to have a path to citizenship? Dudley knows how to fix your wagon -- fusion voting.

    When it comes to fusion voting, I particularly distrust the Pacific Green Party whose only realistic hope for "success" is to cost a Democrat an election (since they can't win one on their own). This is the party who openly and willingly accepted help from the Republican Party of Oregon to get Nader on the ballot in 2004.

    Fusion voting may sound empowering, but its design is to impose more discipline and less independence on Democratic office holders. Its enactment would be an amazingly short-sighted move by the legislature and damn unhealthy for democracy.

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    What is Jeff Merkley's position on fusion voting, Kari?

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    This is great news! With fusion voting, Republicans can run ads or send out mailers in every race where the Democrat is also endorsed by the Green Party tying him or her to the wackiest positions in the Green Party platform.

    Republicans won't have to Swift Boat Democrats any more. They can Swift Boat themselves!

    Are there any more great New York ideas we can import here? Obviously they are just the state we want to be just like when we grow up.

  • Joe Sm (unverified)

    Had Barbara Dudley not been so openly (and I believe unjustly) critical of the Democratic Party's support for Labor and Labor's causes I'd be less suspicious of her proposal. Her fusion voting proposal, given her constant badmouthing, seems aimed much more toward increasing minority power (hers) than increasing majority responsibility and sound policy.
    Beware of systems which deliver legislative clout to groups way beyond their electoral participation; they invite even more tyranny by minority than we have now.

  • Rose Wilde (unverified)

    There's an awful lot of democratic defensiveness going on in the comments this time. I think this idea deserves a more in depth discussion before we cast it aside. I can't be the only progressive unhappy with the choices I usually have in two party elections.

    The idea isn't to punish "good" dems who cross a party line from time to time. I think that is often a sign of thoughtful leadership and ideological freedom. I like the idea because it absolutely does give smaller parties an opportunity to influence politics and legislation, without having to win an election stacked in favor of the two parties.

    What's the deal here? -- it's like someone said a naughty word.

  • Frank Carper (unverified)

    Wait, help me out. I thought the intent of this session was to deal with emergencies that couldn't wait until 2009? What's the big emergency? This is an okay idea but c'mon, we can't even talk about the OHSU v. Clarke issue.

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    Any one who has followed New York politics closely would give pause to supporting this approach. At least in New York it has turned into a very corrupt process and provided none of the benefits to those supporting it here. While it could be different in Oregon I wish this was not rushing through in 30 days. This is precisely the kind of electoral debate that should take some time and discussion in the legislature and the broader public before implementation. I realize that there are many proponents on Blue Oregon, but I have not heard much from the political science community about how it has worked in other states. Comparisons to parlimentary countries is not meaningful.

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    I'm not convinced the issues that New York has with corruption can rightly be placed at the feet of fusion voting. But even if it doesn't serve New York's politics very well, it's still the right thing to do.

    The Courts flat out erred in allowing legislatures to outlaw fusion voting. It is a free speech issue. Any party should be able to endorse whoever the hell they want, period, without the government getting involved.

    Insofar as what it will do to the state of Oregon, I do not share BCM's concerns that minor parties will get power disproportional to their representation. This isn't a coalition type system. Voters still get to make up their own minds.

  • John Q Public (unverified)

    I'm not a supporter of the Oregon Working Families Party right now because I find their message and values to be muddled at best. I'm opposed to populism because the outcome more often than not is regressive rather than progressive (as those who gave us our republic form of government warned.) And I was not for fusion voting until I read some of the comments here by people ranting in their fear it would actually correct some how the Democratic Party in Oregon has become a hollow, fraudulent representation of what Democrats have actually stood for since the New Deal. Well I must admit, the reasons the anti-fusion people gave here have actually caused me to look more closely at supporting fusion with a favorable mindset.

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    I'm not particularly worried. Sure, judging by their most vocal leaders, today the WFP is largely a group of fringe purity trolls. But really, doesn't this system help correct that?

    I mean, given their current annoyance factor, I can easily see a not inconsequential group of Democratic voters looking at whoever gets their nod in the Primary and saying "well, I'm certainly not voting for that guy" - kind of like how people today figure how to vote on initiatives by picking the opposite of whatever Sizemore endorses.

    But under this system, since the WFP don't have to feel that they're constantly in opposition to Democrats, it becomes in their best interest to put things in a more positive manner. They gain credibility that way, and prevent the "Sizemore effect" from happening.

    I'll happily trade the Democrats becoming more liberal for the WFP and Greens becoming less counterproductive.

  • James X. (unverified)

    I would prefer the voters decide who their second choice is, rather than parties and candidates decide that for them.

  • Jeff (unverified)

    Wouldn't Fusion give the need for the creation of a Party that focused on the issues that the WFP explicitly avoids? (E.g., big chunks of choice, lgbt rights, civil liberties, and the environment).

    Maybe this would be good, or maybe it would more greatly fracture a progressive coalition. Of course, it would give our Labor allies a firmer grip on the reins of the Democratic Party, and those of us who are confident of their right-ness might like that. Others might worry that giving the Dem's Anchor Tenant even more sway might crowd out the prioritization of other issues and viewpoints, and leave progressives less able to remain independent in the face of soft corruption or staleness.

    Ultimately, any election system should be reviewed based on whether it is more likley to encourage the public conversation to yield the public interest.

    I think it's a tough call with Fusion. I think John Calhoun's point of getting the political science community to weigh in would be smart.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    Could someone tell me - in a step by step manner (i.e "step one is..." ect) - how fusion voting would work in Oregon without using gobbledygook words and/or PC wording. I want to know what is going on in plain english.

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    I see no good reason for fusion voting to be illegal. But I don't see it as the panacea it's being touted as either. And I certainly don't see it being all that helpful to minor parties. It'd just be another way to make the Two-Party system appear to be more user-friendly.

    Effectively, what this idea would do is allow minor parties to play the role of intra-party caucuses. Which begs the question of why? It's mental masturbation as far as I can tell.

    But as I said... I see no good reason for it to be illegal. Steve's right, it's a free speech issue and ought to be legal even if it is useless. We The People have a right to engage in self-delusion.

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    "Could someone tell me - in a step by step manner (i.e "step one is..." ect) - how fusion voting would work in Oregon without using gobbledygook words and/or PC wording. I want to know what is going on in plain english."

    Every party in Oregon can now "nominate" any candidate for their line on the ballot. It can be their own candidate, or it can be another party's candidate--like a minor party such as the Libertarians, putting the Republican nominee's name on their line.

    When they add up the votes, they add them up by party, and then add the total votes for each candidate put together and declare a winner. That's it.

    The key part is that you can see the totals by party, and see that, say, the Democrat got 5% of the vote from people who voted for him on the Green Party line instead. The idea is that the winning Democrat now knows that a certain percent of his constituency is hot for environmental protection. That in turn theoretically creates a point of access with the official in legislation and future elections, on the basis of "hey, we're 1 of every 20 votes you got" or whatever their influence is.

    Perhaps it was the times moreso than the method, but this is not some "New York idea." Fusion was key to several populist victories in Oregon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was the mechanism used to build a coalition for women's suffrage, for instance. Fusion does not create strong minor parties by itself, but it does allow minor parties a mechanism to grow and gain influence over time as their pallette of issues receive more attention on the ballot line.

    I have no idea why the ranting on WFP as some kind of purity troll party. The idea on that is also pretty simple--there are a range of kitchen table, family based issues that focus on health care, education, retirement, wage assistance, etc., and those should be the primary focus of government...not the often divisive social issues that government really isn't well positioned to mediate in the first place. I've never heard it even hinted at as a tool to stick in the eye of Democrats, and in fact if anything I wonder sometimes if there is any real long-term motive to begin presenting their own slate of candidates, rather than carving out a formal, quantifiable voice within the Democratic Party for working families. So attacking it as some sort of teeming pit of anger--I dunno. Lots of us are pissed at Democrats in general; it might not be the party one is associated with.

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    Barbara Dudley is a tireless advocate for working people. As a progressive voter and working parent, I feel lucky to have her brains and hard work on our side.

    If you have something to say about the bill, then say it. But anyone who knows Barb knows she's an awesome person who works hard to make a difference, and the comments (above) to the contrary are just bull.

  • JakeO (unverified)

    As a native New Yorker I'd like to chime in here with a couple of comments.

    First of all most objections to fusion seem to be directed not at the policy but towards the Working Families Party. I'll address these concerns in a moment. Very few othese comments seem to be critical of the policy of fusion voting. Fusion gives voters, parties and politicians a greater degree of choice. Democrats wouldn't be "swift boating themselves" by taking an endorsement from a third party if they don't want to. If you don't agree with the ideology of the Working Families Party then you don't have to vote on their line. Another big concern I've noticed is the issue of corruption. Ask yourself this: Do we not see corruption and patronage in the two party system today?

    In New York the Working Families Party has been a positive progressive force. Without the WFP we would have never overridden Pataki's veto of the minimum wage increase, overturned the Rockefeller drug laws or passed the Paid Family Medical Leave act. Contrary to the belief that WFP only concentrates on labor issues the party has been a strong voice against the Iraq War since the start, fights for equality and is pro-choice.

  • Joe Smith (unverified)

    John Calhoun's point seems the most trenchant. There is no "emergency" around the proposal for fusion voting to justify it's being pushed through in the "Emergency" four week session. This is something which deserves to be considered and debated at length, and is an issue candidates for the legislature should be heard on before any vote in Salem.
    Philosophically, I have difficulty understanding forcing an organization, whose membership is available to anyone, to be governed, or have its decisions made even in part, by people who aren't willing to accept the responsibilities of membership. We wouldn't for a moment expect a union, or a chamber of commerce, or a service club, or any other voluntary-membership organization, to let non-members vote on who will represent or speak for them, so why is it okay to do that with a political party? We at least should talk about that before making such a significant change.

  • harry demarest (unverified)
    • The current fusion proposal allows a candidate to opt-out of a minor party listing on the ballot.
    • Currently any minor party can get on the ballot by running a spoiler candidate. With fusion they have the additional option of endorsong a major party candidate. That's good.
    • Research which I have seen shows that fusion voting is more likely to help Democrats than Republicans.
    • Fusion will encourage more of our disaffected to participate in the political process.
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    On the "emergency" nature of the special session: It seems to me that this year's special session is intended to be a "test run" of annual sessions, in the hopes of getting a constitutional amendment passed in the near future. That may or may not be good strategy -- or even constitutionally legit -- but I don't see why that should reflect on any specific initiative advanced during the session. It seems like a higher-level decision than that. Let me know if I'm wrong about any of this.

    On parties being private entities: (1) Parties are not effectively open to anyone; due to HB 2614 of 2005, any Democrat or Republican signing a petition for an independent candidate, whether or not they're aware of the restriction, sacrifices his or her ability to vote in the party primary; and (2) since the state funds, conducts, and legitimizes those primaries, the people of the state have significant standing to influence the operations of the parties.

    If parties want to present themselves as independent entities not to be tinkered with, they will make no headway with me until both those conditions have been corrected.

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    Many of you may not be aware that this year's rewrite of the Oregon Open Primary initiative bears some significant similarities to Fusion Voting. These changes make Open Primary an even more attractive proposal, and also protect it against constitutional challenge.

    In a nutshell, under the Open Primary system, candidates would not run as members of a party, but as themselves. Parties would have the option to endorse candidates, and candidates would have the option of having those endorsements -- one or more -- listed on the ballot. The candidate's party registration would be listed, as well.

    Not looking to hijack this thread from its topic, which is Fusion Voting. If anyone wants to discuss Open Primary, I'd encourage you to respond via email, either to me or to the campaign, instead of here.

    Disclosure: I work on the Open Primary campaign as a consultant, but am speaking only for myself.

  • Thomas Paine (unverified)

    Fusion is simply more democratic. It gives the voter the ability to vote specific issues, or even make a statement, without wasting their vote or spoiling.

    When fusion was legal in Oregon we were electing populists. If we ever hope to build a long lasting progressive majority we need to come to grips with the obvious trend toward "independent". Fusion, or cross endorsement, means you can support the major party candidate without supporting the major party.

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    I'd much rather see Instant Runoff Voting than Fusion.

    The issue in NY isn't that it causes corruption there as that the system for a long time was corrupted such that the two "minor" parties (Liberal and Conservative) who usually cross-endorsed as their names would suggest could threaten not to do so if their tightly held leadership was not given patronage perks by the major parties. The entry of the WFP into the NY picture has changed that dynamic somewhat.

    The WFP is a complicated animal. While I agree with what Steve M. says about free speech, his comments also illustrate why the "purity troll" motives attack language is problematic. The WFP emerged in the 1990s in response to discontent with Bill Clinton's anti-labor policies like NAFTA and more generally the DLC ascendancy in rejecting "Old Democrat" issues and positions. Like the New Party it looked to a "fusion" strategy, though with tighter relations to the trade union movement. Unlike the New Party it is not clear that it ever has had ambitions to be an actual free-standing party, as opposed to a ginger group in the DP milieu on working-class issues.

    But it also differed and in part I think was created as an alternative to the Labor Party Advocates / Labor Party led by former OCAW head Tony Mazzochi (alas now deceased), whose slogan is "The Bosses have Two Parties, Isn't it Time We Had One of Our Own?" and which explicitly ruled out cross-endorsing DP candidates. The LPA strategy, which partly failed by being pushed prematurely into forming an actual political party & then was torn apart by divisions over whether, when and how to run candidates, was premised on the idea the organized labor represented the one source of resources upon which a major progressive realignment might be organized. It is now moribund, as following the link above will illustrate.

    The LPA/LP got buy-in (literally) for a period from a number of international unions and more locals and regional bodies. But for the most part union leadership was wary of losing its influence with the DP yet frustrated with the refusal of the DP to move on many of its major concerns and its willingness to support actions harmful to working people for the benefit of pro-D corporate interests. The WFP strategy appeared to offer a degree of leverage on those points, without the risks posed by the LP strategy, though it only has made a difference in a few places locally.

    The 1990s really were different than today and the DP under Clinton both put over NAFTA, and, in the period when D's controlled both the presidency and congress, failed to pass important worker rights legislation. The controlling faction of the DP delighted in trashing labor while taking its support for granted. The contrast to today, when virtually all the major or potentially major DP presidential candidates support the Employee Free Choice Act, is striking.

    In terms of the People's Party period, the fusion picture is much more complex than TJ's wholly positive view suggests. In 1892 at its formation the People's Party had a quite radical program focusing on finance issues that were driving small farmers into foreclosure and tenancy as oppose to land ownership. A piece had to do with RR monopoly shipping rates. Another piece had to do with commodity prices being suppressed by a series of deep economic depressions, one of which comprised most of the 1890s. Part of the reason the business cycles got so deep and depressions hard to get out of was due to the gold standard, which made it hard to respond to liquidity crises & get the economy moving again (this is the wonderful system to which Ron Paul wishes to return us, btw); banks failed frequently, wealth destroyed by market collapses stayed destroyed, surviving banks became reluctant to lend money except at high rates and had harsh foreclosure policies.

    The original People's Party platform was in part an "easy money" policy involving paper currency, but also had much more complex proposals for "sub-treasuries" that would operate in some respects as public banks on a regional basis. The Federal Reserve system is to a degree version of those proposals remodeled to benefit big capital rather than small farmers.

    In 1896 the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan on a "silver standard" platform, which would have eased the liquidity problems of the gold standard but not to the degree of paper money (this was the source of his famous speech about how labor should not be crucified on a cross of gold). The Dems didn't have much to say on most of the Populists' other issues. There was a huge fight within the People's Party over whether to cross-nominate Bryan or not; the Bryanites won -- relative easing of credit winning out over the wider Populist platform.

    This enabled some normally R farmers and workers to vote for Bryan without voting for the Democrats. N.b. 1896 was closer to 1865/ Civil War than we are to 1968/ Vietnam & "waving the bloody shirt" was still a highly effective tactics for the Rs. This was also the beginning of the DP led mass disfranchisements of blacks and poor whites in the South, about the height of the lynching era, the period of the emergence of urban white anti-black racial pogroms -- "race riots" in the old sense -- and the birth of elaborate Jim Crow laws enacted by Dems in the wake of Plessy v. Ferguson.

    I am not sure what benefits TJ may see in Oregon, or how cross-endorsement may have worked out here. But for the People's Party in general, and particularly in the Old South and southern midwest, where the PP offered some tentative openings toward economically based alliances across racial lines, cross-endorsing Bryan was pretty disastrous.

  • Jeff (unverified)

    Well, we can like Fusion, but it doesn't really/necessarily help given the trend toward "independent"-minded voters.

    Indeed/instead, it empowers smaller factions, micro-partisanship, aka more</i)>away</i) from partisanship. It is attempts to resist that wave by empowering the building of smaller boats.

    The reason the reality of the WFP is important is that it will be the biggest frigate of the newly buoyed vessels. And the other vessels might worry they will be left behind the convoy in stormy seas. (They also might worry of course that metaphors, albeit apt ones, might get extended for multiple sentences.)

  • Jeff (unverified)

    Well, we can like Fusion, but it doesn't really/necessarily help given the trend toward "independent"-minded voters.

    Indeed/instead, it empowers smaller factions, micro-partisanship, aka more partisanship. That might be a good thing. But Fusion doesn't ride the wave away from partisanship. It is attempts to resist that wave by empowering the building of smaller boats.

    The reason the reality of the WFP is important is that it will be the biggest frigate of the newly buoyed vessels. And the other vessels might worry they will be left behind the convoy in stormy seas. (They also might worry of course that metaphors, albeit apt ones, might get extended for multiple sentences.)

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    For once the all itals aren't my fault! wonder of wonders; well, at least not wholly, maybe I could have caught the previous mistake. Would grateful if someone could fix my post. Thx.

  • Alex Aronson (unverified)

    I second Thomas Paine. Fusion gives voters more choice and power with their ballot. The ability to support a candidate without also giving tacit approval to a major political party is, in my opinion, groundbreaking.

    36% of Oregon voters under the age of 34 are registered NAV. Young people don't like parties (unless of course there's plenty of beer). Shouldn't we be looking for electoral models that more accurately reflect the increasingly nonpartisan makeup of our state's electorate?

  • Miles (unverified)

    I'm having trouble understanding the impact of fusion voting. Is the hypothesis that there are currently voters, say with the Green Party, who support a candidate but won't vote for that candidate because they have a D instead of a G next to their name? And if the candidate is listed as a Green Party nominee as well, they will vote for him?

  • NOT Jefferson Smith (unverified)

    [Editor's note: This comment was posted by someone claiming to be Jefferson Smith. It is not the Jefferson Smith who is running for the Legislature. Whoever it is has posted using at least two other names here at BlueOregon.]

    Fusion is a good thing in that it allows for more choices without forcing anyone to do anything different if they choose not to. It seems to me that those who oppose Fusion are somehow threatened by that and seek to suppress choice rather then welcome it. Too many voters today are disenfranchised by a two party system which projects views that many don’t agree with or see as limited. With fusion it opens up more expression and allows candidates to see where critical support is coming from and keeps those who are in a minor party from playing the roll of spoiler. I have five children who are now young adults who want more options then what a two party system has been telling them they have to be and this will in part entices them to participate and feel better represented in the process. I think Barbara has done a great service for us here in Oregon and I encourage more of it!

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    A few thoughts:

    If Long Islanders can figure this voting system out, how hard can it really be?

    I worked for a Democratic candidate in Nassau County, NY, who also earned the WFP endorsement. We worked well together, and I think fusion voting helped opened the door for us with a lot of folks. I am a proud D, but liked working with the WFP organizers.

    The New York experience is the WFP party making a difference in a lot of suburban and marginal districts. And the WFP folks I worked with up there weren't "purity trolls." They had questionnaires just like everyone else. My recollection is that we didn't score 100-percent, but appreciated their help and grass roots support anyway. I'd also say the WFP folks did a good job delivering canvassers and getting out the vote. Certainly not a in-name-only endorsement.

    So, that's my two-cents about actually managing a race under a fusion system.

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    Nice set of comments. Glad to see the clarification after the grossly inaccurate comparison to Italy (nothing at all in fusion voting resembles the Italian PR / parliamentary system) and the quick dismissal of the NY cause and effect claim (NY is corrupt, NY has fusion, therefore fusion causes corruption).

    I'm really not sure why some posters are so opposed. This does not challenge at all the "blue" characteristics of Oregon and could strengthen them.

  • Allen Hancock (unverified)

    Let's give it a try! The only way to know if fusion voting helps our democracy is to try it. If it turns out to be riddled with problems, we can get rid of it. The stakes aren't that high and it's easily reversible. Part of being a progressive is a willingness to adopt new approaches to issues.

  • JakeO (unverified)

    Charlie. I take exception to your comments about Long Islanders. My mother is a native of Long Beach, New York. Other strong progressives from Strong Island include Billy Crystal and the Baldwin family.

  • Jefferson Smith (unverified)

    Maybe there are two folks named Jefferson Smith 'round these parts (I haven't met the other one; I'm the tall blonde one), but I think I'm a better writer (at least sometimes) than that other guy who used my (his?) name.

    And, for what it's worth, I'm not yet convinced that Fusion Voting would advance the public interest.

    Assuming it's an honest mistake, -- Jefferson "The real Slim Shady" Smith

  • Jefferson Smith (unverified)

    Oh...and I don't have five kids...I hope. (That's the part that makes me pretty sure you're real.)

    (But I'm truly excited to meet the other Jefferson Smith...you and I should start a club! We could trade stories about growing up with such a name...and I can share stories about my older brother Lincolm....)

  • LT (unverified)

    Thanks Jeff:

    Posted by: Jefferson Smith | Feb 7, 2008 3:44:56 PM

    I'm not yet sold on fusion voting either.

    And as for Posted by: Jefferson Smith | Feb 7, 2008 1:44:28 PM,

    perhaps this Jefferson could let us know who his parents are--as Jefferson "The real Slim Shady" Smith has a famous Oregon Democratic lineage.

  • Alan Moore (unverified)

    A few thoughts on fusion:

    1) This was the original election system in Oregon. The track record in Oregon and other states was that the Democratic party "fused" or endorsed the same candidates as many other political parties (including electing Sylvester Pennoyer as governor between 1887 and 1895 through a "fusion" of Democrats and Populists). This progressive electoral process was outlawed in Oregon and most other states in a bid by the Republican party of the time to eliminate fusion. This quite from a Republican Minnesota state legislator of the time makes it clear what his party was trying to do: "We don't propose to allow the Democrats to make allies of the Populists, Prohibitionists, or any other party, and get up combination tickets against us. We can whip them single-handed, but don't intend to fight all creation."

    2) This simple electoral reform allows voters to vote their consciences without either supporting spoiler candidates with no chance to win or voting for candidates who they agree on 1 or 2 important issues but on the whole are not supportive of them nor their families.

    3) I know that many/most Blue Oregon readers are die hard Democratic party supporters but it is important to note that many Oregonians vote against their economic interests because they are reticent for voting for a Democratic candidate due to social issues. The Working Families Party will fill a void by allowing voters to vote in their economic interest without seeming to support other causes which they do not support. Many Oregonians are turned off by the two party system and having fusion voting relegalized will draw more people into the electoral process. A little known FACT is that Oregon has low voter participation because a high percentage of Oregonians never register. Giving more meaningful choices to Oregonians stands a chance to overcome that sad situation and is more DEMOCRATIC.

    Fusion voting is more democratic than the current system, it is a simple reform and allows voters of diverse opinions to have a meaningful voice in the democratic process. If you value democracy, give fusion voting a chance. If you wonder what the Oregon Working Families Party is up to, check out http://oregonwfp.org/.

  • (Show?)

    I've added an editor's note to the other Jefferson Smith comment. Seriously, people, use your real names. Or at least, don't use other people's real names -- or we're going to ban all anonymous commenting. (Which many, many people want me to do. And I'm tempted every day. But I also respect the arguments in favor of anon comments.)

  • Erik Douglas (unverified)


    What about IRV....

    Better and clearer in every way...

    Not to mention, more democratic...

  • Jaywalker (unverified)

    Somebody wanted input from the political science community.. I have a degree in it, although I can't say I speak for the "community" of political scientists.

    In political science terms, political parties are mediums of communication between politicians and voters. They are shortcuts, in a way. Voting for the Republic party indicates that you're generally a conservative, or that you strongly agree with one on the parties' positions. Groups of issues are coalesced into parties because it's a workable method of organizing a lot of issues and beliefs.

    Fusion voting allows for a more specific and nuanced communication. A few more parties means more defined sets of ideas to be represented. With cross-endorsed candidates on the ballot, voters have a better idea of what the candidates represent, and with winning margins of votes coming from a minor party or two, elected officials beter know the views of who elected them.

    And as for Italy, European countries make alliances after the election, and the government relies on the alliance holding. Fusion takes place before the election, and the interval of the legislature is fixed, and does not rely on the alliance (but reelection might.) This is why the Italian analogy doesn't work. But the Italians are learning, and La Margherita (the Daisy party) is an example of a pre-election alliance, if you're interested in looking it up.

  • LT (unverified)

    Erik, I have said it before and I will say it again. When advocates for IRV or fusion voting or anything else have stood in front of a civic group, church Sunday current events forum, or some other group of people in the 95% of the population who are not political junkies and answered questions, then I will take them seriously.

    But comments like "If Long Islanders can figure this voting system out, how hard can it really be?" remind me of the old PACE Picante Sauce commercials, "NEW YORK CITY?! Get a rope!"

    Apparently there were people showing up at Florida polling places on regular primary day asking why there were no polling stations. Voters often have very busy lives and if someone comes up with a new idea like this, then the parent of an infant, the person with a demanding job, or whatever, has a right to derisively say, "Oh, you have a great idea, therefore it will work, and no one is allowed to ask logistical questions because we're smart people, we will figure it out? How is that government of the people, by the people, for the people?"

  • LT (unverified)

    Kari, I understand your concerns about anon. comments. However, there must be some happy medium between "use your whole name when you comment, and if you are worried that someone might Google you and read your every blog comment 5 years from now, just don't comment", and allowing people to use someone else's name, allowing someone to hide behind a screen name and attack others, etc. OregonLive has a username/password system for posting on say, Jeff Mapes blog. Maybe that is the answer.

  • Miles (unverified)

    I'm still confused. Are fusion advocates suggesting that there are voters who currently look at a candidate (let's say Ted Kulongoski) and refuse to vote for him because he's a Democrat, but if he was listed as the Green Party candidate as well as the Democrat, they would vote for him?

    That notion strikes me as absurd. People vote for candidates based on many criteria, but the idea that they would vote for someone simply because they list "Green Party" next to their name, while maintaining exactly the same positions, is incredibly condescending to Green Party voters. Those voters have already done the calculus. They know if the Democrat is green enough for them to support, and if so they'll vote for him. If not, they won't. Adding a party label won't change that.

    The only use I can see for fusion voting is that it conveys some information to the candidate about where they are getting support. That could be useful, but the same info can be gathered through exit polls.

  • (Show?)

    Miles, I think the discussion here has gotten very off track, giving you a pretty skewed view of why fusion is considered a good thing.

    It's not about making subtle changes to the ballot to influence voters differently; the real advantage of fusion voting is the way it influences candidate and party behavior in advance of an election.

    First, it gives "minor" parties a valuable tool. Under the present system, all a minor party can typically hope for is to run its own candidate, and draw some attention to its cause over the course of the election. That candidate often gets labeled a "spoiler" in a competitive race, so the only tool at the minor party's disposal is dynamite…as likely to blow up in their face as it is to effect the desired change.

    Under fusion voting, minor parties can still do that if they choose, but they also have the option of NOT running a "spoiler" candidate. They can use their endorsing option as a tool to court mainstream candidates; for instance, imagine the Pacific Greens saying, "Hey Al Gore, how about you come meet with us, and hear our concerns about global warming, and consider adopting some of our policy positions. If it goes well, maybe we'll endorse you, and you can go confidently into the election knowing that most Greens will support you. If it doesn't, look out -- we might run Nader instead, because we're pretty happy with his policy positions."

    Second, it affects candidate behavior…it gives the candidate an incentive to have meaningful dialog with more than just his own party's core constituency.

    Bottom line, fusion voting establishes a framework within which genuine negotiation and alliance-building can take place. It's possible there are drawbacks, but nobody has convincingly conveyed any to me; making a blanket assertion like "New York politics are corrupt" doesn't really tell me anything.

    Let's find a way to bring passionate and informed minor party members into the political discourse in a meaningful way. Let's minimize the conditions that make the divisive "spoiler" role possible. I think fusion voting would be a strong step in that direction. Open Primary would, too.

  • A. Rab. (unverified)

    Above, an advocate for the Pacific-Greens pushed instant runoff voting as an alternative to fusion because it is "more democratic" (I assume they are an advocate, they link to the party). Our current system is not per say "less democratic" than a system with fusion voting or IRV, it is only different. One's answer to which system is more or less democratic will depend upon how an individual views voting: do they view it as a means of electing an office holder (instrumental view) or do they view it as a means of expressing their political beliefs (expressive view).

    Under the instrumental view, IRV, fusion, or open primaries are not "more democratic" because they are not inherently better at election political leadership - they are simply different. This view acknowledges that the institutions of elections will always effect the outcome of an election i.e. how you vote will determine who wins (to some extent). Therefore, a fusion system is no more democratic than our current system - it is just different, with its own problems and benefits.

    In contrast, the expressive view treats elections as a way for individuals to express their political views to the community (and potentially validated by the community as well). Under this view, an election system is more democratic if it makes it easier for members of the polity express how they feel. As such, systems such as fusion, IRV, open primaries, etc. are superior because they allow members of the political community better express their values.

    P.S. As a side note, this issue has been addressed by the Supreme Court in California Democratic Party v. Jones (and to some extent Burdick v. Takushi). There is an even longer jurisprudence on this, for those who have a lot of free time, not to mention a few really interesting books on what it means to be represented (please note, one's feelings about "really interesting" may vary).

  • Eugene Victor (unverified)

    I'm a Demo PCP and I think it's obvious that fusion would help D's get elected -- especially in marginal districts. There is a small percentage, but potentially a decisive one, of voters (think your stereotypical "Reagan Democrats" who will not vote for a D because they do not agree with the D platform on social issues, guns, etc. As a Union Rep. I know I have trouble convincing certain people to vote for the D as a D. But if I can show that candidate X (think Arnie Roblan in Coos County, for example) is good on working class, bread and butter issues and they can vote for him on the Working Families Party line, they will. 3%-5% is all it would take to tip the balance in close races.

  • LT (unverified)

    "I'm a Demo PCP and I think it's obvious that fusion would help D's get elected -- especially in marginal districts."

    In districts ignore by FP where there are only 2 candidates, how would either IRV or Fusion help elect a Democrat?

    Open Primary could have helped prevent Kim Thatcher from getting the Dist. 25 seat (voters of all parties could have chosen Backlund and Pike as the top 2) but in 2 candidate races, I don't see how IRV or Fusion make any difference.

  • (Show?)

    LT: Agreed. Though, on occasion, Fusion might encourage a Dem. candidate to check in with Working Families or the Greens, where they otherwise wouldn't, if they were nervous about a third candidate entering the race.

    To frame my point in a different, and maybe better way: the true strength of Fusion Voting is not that it offers a way to get more Democrats into office (I doubt it will have much influence one way or the other); but rather, that it will improve access to candidates from both major parties.

    Getting candidates to initiate more dialog, and broaden the groups from whom they seek votes, makes democracy work better.

  • JAYWALKER (unverified)

    Are fusion advocates suggesting that there are voters who currently look at a candidate (let's say Ted Kulongoski) and refuse to vote for him because he's a Democrat, but if he was listed as the Green Party candidate as well as the Democrat, they would vote for him? That notion strikes me as absurd.

    That's exactly what fusion advocates are saying, and it's been proven to be the case.

    Back when fusion was banned in the late 1800's, the county clerks had to make a choice. Obey the legislature and change the ballots, denying candidates who had already been cross-endorsed their second nomination, or disobey the legislature and allow the candidates to have the nominations they had already recieved?

    Half the clerks went one way, the other half went the other. The results were clear, in counties where candidates were listed once, without their own ballot line, their third-party support evaporated. People will vote for a candidate they don't like on a party line they do like.

    Democrats, in particular, should understand that.

  • Miles (unverified)

    Thanks for the response, Pete. The idea that fusion voting would impact the actions of candidates before and after the election makes more sense to me than the idea that voters will change how they vote.

    One technical question: Does fusion voting mean that one candidate may end up listed on the ballot two, three, or four times, whereas other candidates are only listed once? That will be a hard concept for voters to get used to. Wouldn't it be possible to just list the parties that have endorsed the candidate next to the candidate's name, so the name only appears once?

    Under fusion, I would worry about factionalization. I could envision a scenario where interest groups form political parties to push for one or two specific issues, holding out endorsement as the prize. Instead of bringing voters who agree 70% of the time into one party, it could force everyone into small parties where they agree 99% of the time.

    Personally, I'd prefer to see open primaries first as a way to bring everyone into the system.

  • (Show?)
    One technical question: Does fusion voting mean that one candidate may end up listed on the ballot two, three, or four times, whereas other candidates are only listed once? That will be a hard concept for voters to get used to. Wouldn't it be possible to just list the parties that have endorsed the candidate next to the candidate's name, so the name only appears once?

    Answer to the first question is yes. As for confusion, it doesn't seem to have unduly confused voters in other states, and OR has the benefit of a voter's guide to refer to as one fills out their ballot.

    The answer to the second question is "not without changing another law." There must be one and only party on each line, is how I understand the rules when that question came up last time. Also there is a counting issue; if Joe Jones is on one line, how do you tell which party the vote comes from?

  • (Show?)


    I think in a 2 person race where it would help is in the undervote. In many of these close races between a Dem and a Republican, more people sat out the race that the margin between the two candidates. This was certainly true of the Minnis-Brading race and as close as Sal Peralta's race was, I am sure it is true there.

    There are people out there who don't care much for politics, the two political parties, etc. They often don't know much about the candidate. But seeing a candidate listed on the ballot as being supported by the Working Families Party (or maybe the Gun Owners Party or the Oregon Farmers Party or whatever) may be enough to get them to vote in that race. And when the undervote in a legislative race can often be well over 1,000 votes, that could make a big difference.

    I think one of the most interesting things about Fusion is this:

    Say a candidate wins a race by 4%. He looks at his numbers and come to find out 5% of his vote came from people voting on the Green Party line. Don't you think that candidate is going to maybe look a little closer on environmental issues, reach out a little more to the environmental community, etc.?

  • LT (unverified)

    I think people are making assumptions about Fusion which may or may not be borne out by actual behavior of candidates or voters.

    " But seeing a candidate listed on the ballot as being supported by the Working Families Party (or maybe the Gun Owners Party or the Oregon Farmers Party or whatever) may be enough to get them to vote in that race. And when the undervote in a legislative race can often be well over 1,000 votes, that could make a big difference."

    Speculating on what voters MAY do assumes 2 things: 1) Voters care about a party rather than about individual candidates. 2) That in counties where someone barely won or lost a race, Fusion would have made the difference in a 2 person race. But do you know that? It was a local joke in 1982 when there was a contested 5th Cong. Dist. Dem. primary but only Denny Smith on the GOP ballot that the local newscasters said sometime after 11 pm, "Folks, we have another election result to bring you---Denny Smith has just beaten his undervote". But how often does that happen? There were people who undervoted (or wrote in) in the really nasty 1992 US Senate primary, the 1996 special US Senate election where people had gotten fed up with the commercials, the 1990 and 1992 general election US Senate

    Case in point would be Winters vs. Evans for State Senate. I couldn't find Polk 2006 results on their website but I know the margin was only about 20 votes or so. But in Marion County, which does still have 2006 results posted, the margin was about 3,000 in favor of Winters (Winters lives in Marion County, Evans in Polk County) with maybe 1300 undervotes. So how would Fusion have changed that result?

    I just think assuming voters will act as advocates for Fusion or any other idea assume they will act is probably about as accurate as any political activist or pundit saying in 2007, "Well, after Feb. 5, when both parties have chosen their nominees....".

    Actual voters proved that theory wrong, and I suspect actual voters would prove many theories about Fusion or IRV wrong also.

    Which is why I think those who are in favor of such ideas should be talking to community groups in person and answering their questions. Actual people might see things differntly than the theories of the adovocates speculate they would see the idea. Perhaps people register NAV because they don't trust any party. Perhaps lots of voters are tired of the attitude "we have a great idea, therefore it will work" on any subject, whether it is voting systems or anything else.

  • David Wright (unverified)

    As to questions of free speech, any party is already free to endorse any candidate they want in any election they want, regardless of whether fusion voting is allowed. And no party is required to put forward a candidate of their own if they choose not to. If the Green Party prefers the Democratic candidate to someone else, they need only make their support public and refrain from running anyone else. It seems an entirely reasonable restriction on the election process to only allow a candidate to be listed once on a given ballot for a given office.

    As to the purported benefits of fusion voting allowing greater expression of the concerns of the electorate -- fusion voting actually introduces incomplete information to the mix, which may be worse than no information at all.

    Currently, where the Democrat is listed only once, no conclusions can be drawn about the motivations behind those who voted for him or her. All you know is that X number of people voted for the candidate.

    Now if fusion voting is added to the mix, you have an additional choice for the voter to make. If you want to vote for Candidate A, you must also decide which party affiliation to imply when you cast that vote. That may be fine for those voters supporting Candidate A who actually do belong to one of the parties that nominated that candidate. But what about other supporters of the candidate who don't happen to support any of the parties involved?

    If a Republican wants to cross over and vote for a Democrat (or vice-versa), how can the voter properly convey his/her personal point of view? Of course, the voter can not. But because fusion voting is supposed to provide this information to the candidate, the candidate will get the wrong impression about that segment of his/her support.

    In short, fusion voting encourages more misinterpretation of the voting data than we already have available, because it promises more information than it can possibly provide.

    At least under the current system, you know what you don't know, and incomplete data doesn't drive you to incorrect conclusions.

    I understand the argument in favor of getting that kind of data to the candidate, before and after an election. But if that's the desired outcome, then the question should be directly asked on the ballot as a separate issue. First, which one of these candidates do you prefer? Second, with which party do you self-identify? That would provide a far more accurate, and more useful, tool for governing (though even that would be too ambiguous).

    Finally, I just have to laugh at the notion that a system which encourages fewer candidates on a ballot actually increases voter choice. :-D

  • Paul (unverified)

    I know people have stopped posting on this issue, but I just saw this and need to correct a factual error by Dudley DoWrong:

    When it comes to fusion voting, I particularly distrust the Pacific Green Party whose only realistic hope for "success" is to cost a Democrat an election (since they can't win one on their own). This is the party who openly and willingly accepted help from the Republican Party of Oregon to get Nader on the ballot in 2004.

    The Pacific Green Party of Oregon did not place Ralph Nader on its ballot line in 2004. David Cobb was the candidate of the Pacific Green Party. Please check your facts before writing.

    Thank you.

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