New Party Pushes Fusion Voting

The Willamette Week has a nice piece on the evolution of the now-official Working Family Party and its effort to bring fusion voting to Oregon.

But before they run candidates, organizers want to end the "spoiler" factor that sinks most other third-party efforts. Third-party candidates often lose out because voters fear opting for an alternative that would help elect a candidate they dislike in either of the two major parties.  To get around that, Working Families wants to return to the "fusion" voting system....

For example, Candidate X could run as a Democrat but also get the Working Families Party's backing in its ballot spot. If Candidate X got 40 percent on the Democratic line and 11 percent on the Working Families line, the candidate would win a total of 51 percent, and the Working Families Party could get Candidate X's attention on its issues.

Fusion voting has yet to be adopted in Oregon, but the WFP has organized some powerful allies in their effort to move it through the legislature:

This spring, Oregon Working Families Party founders Tim Nesbitt and Barbara Dudley met with Libertarian Party president Richard Burke and agreed to ally behind a fusion bill in the 2007 Oregon Legislature.

It is an idea both major parties and third parties can embrace: major parties like it because the votes of splinter factions would ultimately support major candidates; minor parties like the idea of flexing their muscles and influencing the direction of the major parties.  And, according to some blogger the Willamette Week quotes, that could ultimately lead to more choice:

"We may get to a place where there's a dozen parties or more," [Kari] Chisholm says. "And that would give voters more information than they currently get."

BlueOregon has followed the Working Family Party and fusion voting closely.  Read more  here, here, and here.

  • Richard Winger (unverified)

    It doesn't necessarily that just because Oregon legalizes fusion, that there will be an increase in the number of parties in Oregon. Idaho and South Dakota have legal fusion, but those two states have fewer parties on the ballot than Oregon already does.

  • DifferentSalemStaffer (unverified)

    Richard Burke was in the Capitol last session trying to pass the exact same bill through a Democratic Senate.

    Exact same bill.

    But now that it has a Blue Seal of Approval, will the SoS withdraw his objection? Or will we find that a policy's value is the same no matter who sponsors it? Stay tuned!

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    Your point is nitpicking and your argument is unconvincing.

    Fusion voting would give third parties more influence in elections, so it would make it more desirable to establish a party. Whether or not that in fact leads to an increase in the number of parties is uncertain, but it couldn't hurt.

    And your examples are clearly chosen for their convenience. New York, for instance, also has fusion voting. New York has about 15 parties (don't want to rely too much on Wikipedia's accuracy) compared to the 6 we have in Oregon. You also didn't provide any links that demonstrate that ID or SD really have fewer parties than OR.

    I like the combination of One Ballot/jungle primary, fusion voting, and a broad number of parties that Kari promotes.

    The one concern I have is that if the bar for establishing parties is lowered, we could end up giving voters less useful information, not more.

    I shudder to think of the "No Child Left Behind Party," or the "PATRIOT Party."

    If it's too easy to found a party, and if there are few devices to hold parties accountable to their missions, all the new information voters would have at their disposal could be useless - or worse, counterproductive.

  • LT (unverified)

    Before fusion voting can happen, it either has to be a ballot measure or legislation. If legislation, it needs a legislator to introduce it and champion the bill.

    It may be the greatest idea in the world, but I would suggest the supporters quit using New York as an example. For years there have been (for instance) NY Democrats on the Liberal Party Line, Republicans on the Conservative and/or RTL Party Line on the ballot.

    But exactly how does that relate to Oregon? What effect would it have had on Tom Cox's campaign or back further on Al Mobley's campaign? In this year's terms, explain how fusion voting would relate to Joe Keating (nominated by a party) or Ben Westlund, collecting signatures to run as an independent.

    I helped collect signatures for John B. Anderson to be on the presidential ballot in 1980. I don't know if he would have been on another party's line. Would he have been able under fusion voting to have been on the ballot as an independent, or would he have needed a party organization to be on the ballot in Oregon under fusion voting?

    Please use local examples. Every time I read "fusion voting is a great idea--just look at NY" I think of a certain picante sauce ad which makes fun of someone whose sauce is made in NY and not the SW.

    Is there any evidence that Oregon voters will adopt something just because it works in NY?

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    My mention of New York was not meant to justify adopting it here in Oregon. It was simply an illustration that a state with fusion voting can have more parties than Oregon. (Which should be obvious, but Richard W. claimed otherwise.)

    Having the Working Families party officially recognized by the state is a significant step toward Fusion Voting, because that party is a strong advocate for the system.

    I don't presume to know enough about Fusion Voting or the history of Oregon politics to make the kind of argument you request, but I expect that argument - and perhaps proposed legislation - will be forthcoming now that the party has gained official recognition.

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    LT, I should add that the Willamette Week article goes a long way towards addressing your questions - some local historical context, and some analysis of how legislation allowing FV will be introduced.

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    Oh what the heck, I'll give it a shot.

    Keating: The Green Party would have a choice that it doesn't now. They could have held out on nominating Keating, and used that time to pressure Kulongoski to adopt a greener platform. If Kulongoski failed to do so, they could "punish" him by nominating Keating, and that selection would be a more significant news story than it is under the current system.

    Cox: similarly, Mannix would have had the opportunity to pursue the Libertarian endorsement. If he did so successfully, Cox would have been a non-player.

    Westlund: I don't think Fusion Voting has any impact on one's ability to run as an independent. Westlund's appeal plays off of the conceptual link between the technical term "Independent" = meaning non-affiliated - and the "independent spirit" that is so prominent in the mythology of the Oregon voter. In my mind, that amounts to no more than marketing (which is why I'm so puzzled why Kulongoski supporters focus so heavily on it, rather than the issues he champions.)

    Anyway, Westlund would have to choose: pursue party endorsements and the clarity of message they could bring, or maintain the "purity" of his marketing message and stay "above the fray." No telling what he'd do.

  • LT (unverified)

    Pete, thanks for the most intelligent remarks about Westlund I have seen here: Westlund: I don't think Fusion Voting has any impact on one's ability to run as an independent. Westlund's appeal plays off of the conceptual link between the technical term "Independent" = meaning non-affiliated - and the "independent spirit" that is so prominent in the mythology of the Oregon voter. In my mind, that amounts to no more than marketing (which is why I'm so puzzled why Kulongoski supporters focus so heavily on it, rather than the issues he champions.)

    I think that may apply to some people, but to others it is the person of Ben vs. the person of Ted--from formerly active Democrats who got fed up (in some cases "this isn't the Ted I thought I voted for")and some moderate Republicans who have been deserted by their party to the folks who don't think much about politics but they like Ben--met him, a friend met him, like what they hear, etc. A friend of mine is a classic swing voter--too busy to spend much time thinking about politics but some interesting opinions. He voted Bush and Hooley in 2004 and in the mid-1990s he voted for Kitzhaber and for Gordon Smith.

    I mentioned attending a Westlund event the night he learned he'd gotten the required signatures and any more signatures were just extra, and my friend wrote back "Yeah for Ben !!".

    Sometimes voting decisions can be as simple as liking Ben and being disappointed with Ted.

    Loved this quote: "which is why I'm so puzzled why Kulongoski supporters focus so heavily on it, rather than the issues he champions".

    If Ted (and Ron S. ) would take a look at the Westlund website and give their own opinions on every issue there, we could have an intelligent campaign instead of candidates just taking verbal potshots at each other.

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    I am somewhat disappointed with Kulongoski. I have refrained from explaining why here on Blue Oregon, and see no reason to change that. But let's look into the process a bit, of how I will decide who gets my vote.

    The order is the important thing:

    1. Do I think Kulongoski or Westlund would make a better governor?
    2. Based on what I see in the media closer to the election, can I afford to vote my preference, or is it more important to vote against Saxton?
    3. If it's more important to vote against Saxton, is it Westlund or Kulongoski I should be voting for?
    Now, I lost a lot of respect for Ralph Nader in his '00 and '04 runs for the presidency. I suspect I'm not alone in that around here, and I think many of the comments about Westlund come from an assumption that he is a mere "spoiler" in a similar sense.

    That is simply not true. Let's contrast Westlund and Nader:

    • Westlund has real experience in state politics. Nader never held elected office.
    • Westlund's qualifying for the ballot means it's possible for him to win the election (unlike Nader's qualifying in a handful of states.)
    • Westlund's 18,000+ signatures show that a significant chunk of Oregon wants him on the ballot. (Less than 10 times that number voted for Kulongoski in the primary - and casting that vote just meant scribbling some marks on a ballot that came in the mail. Signing a Westlund petition takes much more interest.) Nader (despite what he claimed about taking votes from Bush) qualified by making an appeal to the far left fringe.
    Depending how things go, one possibility is that Westlund will be a mere "spoiler" by election time. But that's not what he is now. Right now, he is a Senator with a perspective and a message that appeals to a good number of Oregonians.

    Has Westlund made an airtight case that he is capable of delivering on the vision that he presents? No - not yet. But he's laid a good foundation, and still has time to drive the point home. That's what campaign season's all about.

    Trying to deny Westlund the chance to make his case looks like fear from where I sit. Hey Kulongoski supporters - what are you afraid of?

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    And in conclusion:

    Kulongoski could go a long, long way toward regaining my respect by acknowledging Westlund's core issues, and arguing that he will deliver results more effectively than Westlund would.

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    OK, guys, enough about the governor's race. This is a post about fusion voting, the working families party, etc.

    I understand that it's useful to discuss the issues in context, but there are plenty of others posts to talk in general about Kulongoski, Westlund, Saxton, and Starrett.

  • Yet Another Anonymous Salem Staffer (unverified)

    I'll heed Kari's advice and trailing off into a more detailed discussion of the Governor's race -- which there's plenty of time to do on more appropriate threads -- but as a supporter of Ted who'd still be backing him enthusiastically if it was just between Ben and him, I'm not really sure that I'd even concede that issues like "energy security" can really be called "Ben's issues" to start with. No one in this contest has done more to fight global warming and develop a more sustainable economy here than Ted, and I look forward to having more of that conversation in the weeks to come.

    But back to fusion. I'll have to respectfully disagree with LT; the reason New York is relavent to Oregon is that how fusion works is a little confusing to voters and so it's helpful to others to know that it's in place elsewhere and the sky has fallen there.

    If this isn't implemented by the Leg, it's unlikely to happen. It's one of those reforms that work pretty welll but don't really lend themselves to very simple and clean messaging for a campaign. Or, you can design a proactive campaign, but it unravels pretty quickly.

    I've worked in New York under this system and here are my thoughts: first, this is a way to bring more hands on deck for progressives running tough campaigns here. The voting and organizing is more issue driven, and in New York specifically the WFP taps into universes of voters with whom they have added credibility. Second, fusion voting could be a really effective way for Democrats to increase turnout in rural or suburban districts that are more purple by having a working Oregonian message that focuses on economic issues, not divisive social issues that chip away at (for lack of a better term) Reagan Democrats. I think an ex-timber worker who's pro-life living on the South Coast but who's deeply suspicious of trade agreements, corporate power, logging exports, ect. would be a prime target.

  • Yet Another Anonymous Salem Staffer (unverified)

    "and" in that first sentence should have been "about"

    Heeding Kari's advice about trailing off.....

  • Yet Another Anonymous Salem Staffer (unverified)

    And I meant to write "Sky hasn't fallen" there.

  • (Show?)

    As someone whose been appalled by the direction my party has gone in recent times, I actually support fusion voting as a way of providing some accountability. In the early 90s, the Democratic Party swung toward the conservative rhetorical position, endorsing tax cuts and abandoning working people for business interests. This was a largely hypothetical period in Democratic politics--and seemed to be supported by Clinton's victory in'92.

    Had we had fusion voting at the time, though, at least in Oregon, we might have been able to voice our protest to this direction and demonstrate the strength of the working people left. It took a dozen years for Dems to come out of the wilderness on that DLC expedition, which was far too long.

  • (Show?)

    I think fusion voting is a much better way to encourage additional parties, one which works within the boundaries of our current electoral system. I'd be much more willing to endorse it than One Ballot, which worries me greatly.

    Fusion voting is a incremental step toward a more representative and responsive political system, thus something we ought to support.

  • Nancy (unverified)

    The Working Families Party is wise to focus on changing the winner-take-all system which too often results in the non-representation of even a majority of voters. But I would like to see how fusion voting compares with the instant runoff system, which is being used successfully in a number of places around the country including San Francisco.

  • (Show?)


    Fusion Voting and Instant Runoff Voting are very different, but they address similar problems. I don't see any reason to "choose" between the two; as far as I can tell, they're entirely compatible.

    Fusion Voting would tend to reduce the number of candidates in the general election, by giving mainstream candidates an incentive to woo smaller parties. Candidates who successfully do so would eliminate the need for smaller parties to run additional candidates.

    Instant Runoff Voting makes elections that DO have multiple candidates more fair, and allows individual voters to more accurately state their preferences. By doing so, it makes it possible (in extreme cases) for candidates without major party backing to have an influence...either by winning outright, or by having a stronger showing than "conventional wisdom" would have recognized.

    Wikipedia has good detailed descriptions of how both systems work. Search for "Instant-runoff voting" or "Electoral fusion".

    When people talk about Instant-runoff Voting, it's important to clarify how it would be implemented. It could simply replace the general election, leaving the existing ways of qualifying for that ballot intact; it could be used to replace primaries, having a single election with multiple Republicans and multiple Democrats; or it could be used for any given party's primary.

    <h2>I think people generally mean the first of those options, but I'm not sure. If so, I see no conflict with Fusion Voting whatsoever. One reduces the possibility of a crowded field; the other makes the election process smoother if there IS a crowded field.</h2>
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