Thursday, October 19, 2006

Question Two: Fusion what?

So, Question One was a relatively straightforward question with a slightly deeper meaning that isn't readily apparent. The consensus (here at least) seems to be a generalized "hmmmm..." Time to move onto a much easier one: Question Two!

Summary paragraph:
This proposed law would allow candidates for public office to be nominated by more than one political party or political designation, to have their names appear on the ballot once for each nomination, and to have their votes counted separately for each nomination but then added together to determine the winner of the election.

This question is being pushed by the Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign and is generally referred to as either "Cross Endorsement" or "Fusion Voting". On a side note, the Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign has good intentions but terrible timing. They chose the slogan "Spinach for Democracy" prior to the E. coli outbreaks. Oops!

The Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign's argument in favor of the question (via the official Mass. "Information for Voters" mailer) reads as such:
Voting "yes" will strengthen your vote and that of every citizen in Massachusetts. Because this initiative will give you the freedom to support third parties while still voting for a candidate with a real chance of winning, you'll be able to hold politicians more accountable to their campaign promises - and keep them working on the issues that matter most to you.

A sample ballot might look like this...

Major Party1........... Waffling Wally........... 48%
Major Party2........... Steady Sue............... 42%
Good Jobs Party........ Steady Sue............... 10%

... where Steady Sue wins with 52%.

Because she sees that 10% of her vote came from the Good Jobs Party, she'll have to prioritize that issue. So whether you care about jobs, taxes, schools or health care, voting "yes" will let you send politicians a message they can't ignore. Vote "yes" for more power at the polls.

The basic idea here is that spoilers (think Ralph Nader) will be less of a problem and third parties will become more attractive. By voting for a third party candidate who has a real chance of winning, the argument is that an elected politician will be more loyal to the concerns of that party than they would otherwise be. I think that's arguable, but if true it would certainly be nice.

The argument against this question is provided by the Chairman of the House Committee on Election Laws:
If Question 2 is approved massive voter confusion will be the result.

A "no" vote on this question will protect voters from confusing ballots and prevent candidates from having their names appear on the ballot more than once for the same office.

Under present law a candidate may only have their name printed on the ballot once. A "yes" vote would change this law. Counting votes will be more complicated.

This change is only a benefit to fringe political parties and designations at the expense of voters. It makes it more difficult for voters to make a clear choice.

Remember the mess in Florida's 2000 Presidential Elections. One of the contributing factors was a confusing ballot layout. Let's keep the clear, orderly voter friendly layout we now have. Elections should be about voters, not political movements and candidates. Keep voter's rights first.

Vote "no" on Question 2.

Not nearly as convincing an argument, if you ask me. It's a bit insulting to voters to claim they won't be able to understand what sounds like a pretty simple change. Furthermore Florida's issues came from a hideously confusing layout, not Cross Endorsement. As for benefiting fringe political parties, I think most people are okay with that. The two main parties don't need any more favors. However, the argument could be made that some candidates could attempt to "stack" the ballot's layout in a way that benefits them.

So is this something that would give voters more options and benefit democracy, or is it something that would lead to confusion or manipulation of voters?

To try to wrap my head around this, I looked to that bastion of righteousness, Joe Lieberman. After losing the Democratic primary in Connecticut, Lieberman of course founded the "Connecticut for Lieberman" party and is running under that ticket. Fusion voting is already legal in Connecticut. How would Massachusetts compare?

I'm unclear whether Lieberman would have been able to pull his shenanigans in Massachusetts under current laws. Currently, to appear on the primary ballot for a party you cannot have been enrolled in any other party in the previous year. I couldn't find whether that applies to the general election as well, though logic would dictate that it does.

So the question now is could Lieberman stack the ballot, by perhaps making not one but a half-dozen parties-of-one? Not just "Connecticut for Lieberman", but also "Pseudo-Republicans for Lieberman", "Bush Fans for Lieberman", "Pet Lovers for Lieberman", etc. By my reading, Question 2 would allow that:
The proposed law would allow a political party to obtain official recognition if its candidate [my emphasis] had obtained at least 3% of the vote for any statewide office at either of the two most recent state elections.

If the focus is really on the candidate and not the party, then it sounds to me like the above stacking of the deck is possible. Perhaps not really likely, but possible. Of course, this is just a ballot question and the actual law may close up some loopholes.

There's a potential downside, but is the upside worth it? I have to go with yes. Anything that encourages more political parties and helps to eliminate spoilers is a good thing. Furthermore, why shouldn't it be legal for one candidate to be endorsed by numerous parties? There are certainly Democrats who'd be fitting Green Party candidates, and perhaps there are even Libertarians who would be embraced by the Republicans (the argument could be made that the current GOP is the polar opposite of Libertarianism, but you get my point).

The arguments against Question 2 just aren't that compelling, and while I think there are a lot more important improvements that could be made to the voting process (like Instant Runoff Voting and the already-passed-but-defunded-by-Romney Clean Elections Law), this isn't a bad step. My cynical side doubts that Fusion voting would really have a huge impact here, but I think it's a step in the right direction.

I'd definitely be curious to hear others' opinions on this question. It's a tricky one, and I'm sure I haven't considered all possible ways it could play out if implemented.


thoughtful said...

I'm not crazy about Q 2. It's kind of a bland, toothless initiative.

I would much rather see a ballot question to address genuine Instant Runoff Voting. I think this gives the most benefit for the individual voter to be able to cast a vote for a third party candidate without running the risk of "spoiling".

I think Q 2 as it is written gives the most benefit to entrenched politicians who would basically get more votes that would otherwise go to third party candidates.

It seems to more effectively bring 3rd parties under the tents of the major parties than to help support or promote the alternatives.

matt said...


Good point about bringing 3rd parties under the tents of the major parties. It does sound more like a way to allow third parties to endorse one of the big two candidates than to legitimately make third party candidates attractive under their own platforms.

While this isn't as good as something like Instant Runoff voting, I'm still not sure it doesn't have some validity of its own. I could conceive of third parties being strengthened just by virtue of people choosing to vote for major candidates under a third party label for a couple of election cycles. Perhaps if people vote for Green party/Dem candidates for a few years they'll be more likely to vote for a distinct Green-only candidate a few years down the road. Then again, maybe not.

But yeah, it does feel sort of toothless as-is.