While candidates outside the two major parties are usually labeled irrelevant at best and spoilers at worst in most states, alternative parties harness great influence in New York, power that is almost entirely due to the unique process known as 'ballot fusion.' Ballot Fusion allows candidates to simultaneously appear as nominees of multiple parties.
This system has lifted organizations like the Independence, Working Families, and Conservative parties from obscurity into relevance, but the accompanying controversy has been intense.
Though such a practice sounds good in theory, critics argue it is inevitably accompanied by corruption. The presence of backroom deals and frequent ideological betrayals has led some to claim ballot fusion negates the very purpose of third parties.
On the other hand, proponents of the current system argue it was the Independence Party, not the GOP, that delivered Mayor Michael Bloomberg his electoral victories by allowing Democrats and independents to vote for a Republican with a clear conscience.
This year, the effectiveness of ballot fusion is again a topic of debate. Ten candidates have entered the New York City mayoral race so far, many seeking the endorsement of multiple parties in an attempt to appeal to the broadest possible segment of the electorate. Early political complications and divisions resulting from the Libertarian Party’s nominating process, however, have led some to re-analyze the costs and benefits of ballot fusion.
The Libertarian Party, already embroiled in controversy after a councilman cross-endorsed from the GOP was arrested on corruption charges, chose Republican primary contender Joseph Lhota as its nominee. Though it was later announced Lhota doesn’t want to appear as the party's candidate, state law prohibits him from preventing the organization from placing his name on the ballot.
Meanwhile, the Independence Party, once headed by psychotherapist Fred Newman, selected former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion as its mayoral candidate. Though the party, credited with propelling Michael Bloomberg to victory on multiple occasions, wields incredible influence, some argue the success has come at the expense of its ethical fortitude.
Accusations of the party leadership using the ballot line for personal financial gain are not uncommon. The organization has faced charges of unethical behavior and corruption, most stemming from contributions by candidates seeking their endorsement.
Despite criticism, proponents believe ballot fusion enfranchises voters by encouraging them to examine candidates and look beyond party labels. After nominating Barack Obama for president, the progressive Working Families Party received 150,000 votes in 2008. The Conservative Party snared 262,304 votes for Mitt Romney four years later.
Andrew Cuomo voiced his belief that being the candidate for the Democratic Party and Independence Party allowed him to develop a “broad coalition” that prevented a “hyper-partisan campaign” during his first gubernatorial bid. However, as New York enters another election cycle, the debate as to whether fusion enfranchises voters or the parties will likely continue.