A Multiplicity of Cross-Endorsing Political
Parties Means Confusion for Voters
Michael A. Koplen, Esq.
Candidate, Rockland County Court
From the time that the Federalists faced off against the Democrat-Republicans in 1792, American elections have typically featured head-to-head contests between candidates from two major parties. Compared to the ponderous multi-partied Parliamentary systems of many European democracies, the American two-party system is a paragon of clarity.
Except, here in New York, it is not. New York is one of just seven states that permits “fusion voting” or “cross-endorsing,” a remnant of rambunctious 19th century voting practices that have been outlawed in most states. New York voters typically must wade through a confusing ballot featuring a half dozen or more parties. And unlike the Parliamentary system where a candidate is limited to a single party, here in New York, candidates often run simultaneously on several lines.
While running on multiple lines is not a guaranty of success, experienced New York politicians spend the first part of every campaign scrambling to appear on as many lines as possible.
I will be running for County Court Judge on the Republican and Stop Common Core lines this November. My opponent will be running on the Democratic, Conservative, Working Families and Independence Party lines, seemingly giving him a built in advantage of four lines to my two.
The Wilson-Pakula Act of 1947 requires candidates seeking nomination on third party lines to get the approval of party bosses. As one might imagine, this byzantine system has breathed life into a coterie of minority party bosses who are adept at leveraging their influence at election time into tangible benefits for themselves in the off season.
This plethora of political parties in New York confuses the electorate. In addition to our traditional Democratic and Republican parties, New York voters can choose to cast their votes on the Conservative, Independence, Working Families, and Green party lines, among others. To complicate this already complicated situation, New York election law permits the creation of special ballot lines for individual elections. In recent years, here in Rockland, we have seen the emergence of the Preserve Ramapo, Preserve Rockland and now the Preserve Hudson lines. The Stop Common Core line is a recent creation of Rob Astorino, the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
This multitude of ballot lines distorts the political process, shifting the focus away from character, qualifications and principle to sheer line-grubbing and appeasement of party bosses.
The minority lines are created by the collection of signatures and other arcane legal requirements set forth in the Election Law. Nearly every election begins with court cases challenging the sufficiency of compliance with these laws as candidates strive to get on extra lines and to keep their opponents off them. I was in New York Supreme Court this morning arguing on behalf of my clients that the Suffern Pride line, a new creation of Suffern Democrats to give themselves an extra line in November, should be disallowed for a variety of technical reasons. As I write this the Judge has yet to rule. My case is just one of many that pop up each election season.
One might argue that the ability to create alternative ballot lines provides opportunity to showcase particular philosophies or causes on a ballot but this is only partly accurate.
It is more so the case that while some of the minor parties bear evocative names, one would be hard pressed to identify any particular outlook or principle to them. This vacuity of substance is manifested by the phenomenon of individual candidates running simultaneously on the lines of political parties that are ostensibly polar opposites in outlook. One would think, for instance, that the Conservative party would nominate candidates who stand for conservative principles such as smaller government, while the Working Families line would feature candidates favoring organized labor, big government, and other traditionally left wing issues. Yet, one often finds the same candidate running simultaneously on both the Conservative and Working Families party, as my opponent is doing this November.
The cleverly-named Independence Party doesn’t appear to stand for anything at all, even in a phony way. Though it is the largest minority party in the state, its members are confused. Most think they have registered as “independents”, or unaffiliated voters and they are proud of their cowboy individuality. In truth, they have been tricked by wordplay into joining a large political party complete with a pantheon of party bosses who engage in back room horse-trading shenanigans like every other party. In 2010 Andrew Cuomo received 146,000 votes on the Independence Party ballot line, to add to his total on the Democratic line.
New York voters, staring at a long ballot filled with a vast array of political parties, have no clue that some of these parties stand for nothing other than the aggrandizement of political power.
On the other side of the coin, some minor parties actually stand for something. At the very least they provide a means for voters to vote their conscience on narrow issues. Up until a few years ago, the Right to Life party appeared on New York ballots, offering candidates who were opposed to abortion. In the most recent elections cycle, the “Preserve” parties have given Rockland voters a chance to vote for candidates favoring controlled growth as opposed to the proliferation of unchecked urban sprawl that one finds in some parts of Ramapo. The Preserve Rockland line provided enough votes to propel our County Executive into the winner’s circle, when combined with his votes on the Republican line. In the upcoming election, the Stop Common Core line will be available for those wishing to vote against heavy-handed centralized government curriculum czars.
Garnering votes on minor party lines often makes the difference between winning and losing an election in New York. But the multiplicity of ballot lines makes for a confusing and messy electoral process and rewards those who are most adept at taking advantage of the system.
Though it won’t happen, New York should clean up its electoral mess and reform its laws to disallow cross-endorsing minority parties.
[Picture credit: http://stevedeace.com/news/land-of-confusion/]