- Nearly 3,000 police body cameras were pulled from the streets last week after one of them exploded and “burst into flames” while being worn by an officer on Staten Island. The NYPD has planned to outfit all of its officers with cameras by the end of 2019.
- After the wave of bombs sent to top Democratic politicians, Gov. Cuomo claimed his office received a “suspicious package.” But, according to the NYPD, it was not a bomb and it was unrelated.
- A new lawsuit accuses the Manhattan DA’s office of maintaining a list of police officers with poor misconduct histories and refusing to release it to the general public. If this list were made public, it could give defense attorneys more leverage in negotiating plea deals for their clients.
- The fall of the IDC and further Democratic gains in the State Senate this November could spell a shift away from the pro-charter school education policy that has dominated state politics in recent years.
- Gotham Gazette identified eight policy proposals that could fix and expand transit service in NYC.
- Council Member Jumaane Williams, who won the NYC vote in his losing effort for Lieutenant Governor last month, has announced that he plans to run for NYC Public Advocate in the likely special election that will be called this winter should Tish James win the Attorney General race.
- In a debate between State Senator Marty Golden (District 22, Southern Brooklyn) and Democratic challenger Andrew Gounardes, Golden proudly made a transphobic statement. Golden also defended Ian Reilly, his staffer who invited the Proud Boys to a Manhattan GOP club last week.
- Mina Malik, a former director of the CCRB and Assistant District Attorney, is planning to enter the 2019 Queens DA race. She would be the first woman of color to ever run for the position, which has been held by Richard Brown since 1991.
- City Limits tried to put together a voter’s guide to judicial elections, but most candidates would not even submit biographical information.
IN-DEPTH: Fusion Balloting
The elections of 2018 have brought renewed attention to New York’s system of fusion balloting, particularly in races involving DSA-endorsed candidates. First, Joe Crowley refused to vacate the Working Families Party ballot line, despite losing his Democratic primary to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Then, after Cynthia Nixon was defeated by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the WFP faced a dilemma over what to do with its ballot line, before ultimately ceding it to Cuomo, despite his undermining of the Party’s goals. Both situations beg larger questions about how fusion balloting works, and what it means for voters.
What Is Fusion Balloting?
Fusion balloting means that votes for the same candidate are aggregated (or fused) in the final tally. In New York, as in the handful of other states that practice this, this means that minor parties can appear on the ballot without necessarily siphoning votes away from major candidates, thereby avoiding the “spoiler” problem that confronts third parties in first-past-the-post elections.
This can lead to a proliferation of party lines, without a corresponding proliferation of candidates. In 2014, for example, the top two candidates in the general election, Andrew Cuomo and Rob Astorino, occupied seven different ballot lines between them. (Three other candidates, including democratic socialist Howie Hawkins, were also on the ballot.) If a candidate receives at least 50,000 votes on a party’s line, then that party is guaranteed access to the ballot for the following cycle. Parties that fall below this level need to petition for ballot access, which is why parties are careful to not endorse candidates who might not meet this threshold.
Currently, there are eight qualified political parties in New York: In addition to Democrats and Republicans, the Green Party, the Working Families Party, the Conservative Party, the Independence Party, the Women’s Equality Party, and the Reform Party all have statewide ballot lines. (The Libertarian Party also typically appears on statewide ballots, but having never received the required 50,000 votes, it has to petition anew every year.)
Are All These Parties Legit?
Fusion balloting results in a proliferation of a few different types of parties. The first are parties that represent a flank of one of the major parties, and use their independence to exert influence over the platform and nominating process of that party. This is generally how the Working Families Party operates within the Democratic Party, and the Conservative Party of New York roughly does this with the Republican Party—while both generally cross-endorse in general elections, they periodically field primary challengers, and occasionally even opponents for the general election.
The other types that show up on the ballot are the single issue parties, such as the Right to Life Party, or the Tax Cut Now Party, and vanity parties, which mostly exist a front for a person or group. The line between these types, though, is blurry, as the former often become the latter. In 2014, for example, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino started the Stop Common Core Party. After he received the requisite 50,000 votes, he renamed it the Reform Party and affiliated with the National Reform Party, but in 2016 Curtis Sliwa, radio host and founding member of the Guardian Angels, seized control of the 378-member organization, and now uses it promote his own agenda.
The Women’s Equality Party and the Independence Party both operate along similarly opaque and fraudulent lines. The WEP was founded by Andrew Cuomo in 2014, in an attempt to deflect criticisms from his then-opponent Zephyr Teachout and possibly undermine the similarly named WFP. The Women’s Equality Party has refused to actually endorse women, and has raised little money outside of loans from the Cuomo campaign. The Independence Party of New York, though originally affiliated with the campaigns of billionaires Ross Perot and Tom Golisano, now has no identifiable political platform or coherent endorsement strategy (its endorsees have included Ralph Nader, John McCain, Eliot Spitzer, and Gary Johnson), and generally exploits confusion about its name to recruit members. In recent years, it has been used as a shady fundraising vehicle for the State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference. (Ex-IDC members Jeff Klein and Tony Avella will both be on the ballot in their districts in November, despite losing their primaries last month, thanks to the Independence Party.)
How Does One Get On These Ballot Lines?
Technically, in order to get the ballot line of an existing party for a statewide race, a candidate must win that party’s primary, or be nominated at a convention. But in fact the state and county committees play decisive roles. Party committees in general can be opaque to most voters, but for third parties, where primaries receive little attention (in June, a Congressional candidate won a primary in the Women’s Equality Party with two votes), they have even more influence.
For one, in statewide races, the committee can designate a candidate ahead of the convention or primary and, for most third parties, these committee designations become the party’s endorsement. The party leaders also negotiate cross-endorsements with major party candidates, leading to many inside deals and, in some cases, blatant corruption. And, in the event a candidate needs to be removed from the ballot, as was the case with Cynthia Nixon and the Working Families Party this year, the party leaders navigate that legal thicket. In local races, the committees can exert even more control.
Separate but related to fusion balloting is the Wilson Pakula Act, which was passed by the State of New York in 1947 to prevent the American Labor Party and Communists from interfering with the dominant parties. The law forbids candidates from receiving the nomination of a party they are not members of, unless they obtain the permission of party leaders. That exception is yet another way that party leaders can control their ballot lines.
What Does This Mean for DSA?
Fusion balloting has many critics. Some criticism comes from New York politicians who resent any attempt to prevent their automatic renomination, but some criticism is also legitimate, as 2018 has illustrated. Joe Crowley, Jeff Klein, and Tony Avella will all be on the ballot this year, despite losing their primaries, thanks to cross-endorsements. Meanwhile, the WFP has been forced back into an ugly alliance with Governor Cuomo in order to preserve its ballot line. Along with the confusion sowed by so many parties with confusing names and ambiguous structures, all of these are legitimate reasons to be suspicious of the process.
But fusion balloting also presents opportunities for independence within a larger coalition, which could be valuable to an organization like DSA. In last year’s City Council race in District 35, NYC-DSA was able to get a Socialist ballot line for its cross-endorsed Green Party candidate, Jabari Brisport, thanks to this system. Fusion balloting itself dates back to the nineteenth and early twentieth century, when the labor movement and various socialist parties were able to field and elect candidates around the city. While it certainly entails some unfortunate compromises and unsavory alliances, fusion balloting can be an effective tool for building socialist power.