Not Quite an Exact Portrait | The Nation


Not Quite an Exact Portrait

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Click here for more info on electoral reform from the Center for Voting and Democracy.

Fusion Voting

About the Author

Patrick Mulvaney
Patrick Mulvaney is a Reprieve Fellow and Staff Attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. His work...

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A favored Democrat's mayoral primary win divides a city between those who support his hardball anticrime tactics and minorities who see them as a blueprint for racial profiling.

Fusion voting is another voting method that increases elected officials' accountability and fosters the development of a competitive, multiparty system. With fusion, candidates can run on more than one party line--an option that allows minor parties to grow and develop even without a full slate of its own candidates.

Ten states, including New York, Mississippi and Utah, currently allow fusion voting, which the Working Families Party has used to grow its organization. When political parties capitalize on it, fusion gives voters more options, more of a voice in their government and in the end, better representation.

For example, in Suffolk County, New York, in 2001, Bill Lindsay ran for the county legislature on both the Democratic and WFP lines. On election day he squeaked out a 50.6 percent-49.4 percent victory, with 3 percent coming from the WFP. Without "spoiling" the election for Lindsay, their preferred candidate, WFP voters made their presence known and affected the election while continuing to a build their party.

Campaign Finance Reform

The amount of money in politics is, without a doubt, excessive and unfairly distributed. In 2000, presidential and Congressional candidates spent a combined $3 billion on the election, with incumbents dominating in the race for cash. And the situation is only getting worse. In fact, this presidential race is, by far, the most expensive in American history. Campaigns for the House and Senate require raising exorbitant amounts of money as well--roughly $5 million, on average, for a Senate run, and around $900,000 for a House bid.

The obvious consequence is that only people with money or with access to money can make serious runs for public office. And instead of responding to the needs of their constituents, many elected officials respond first to the wishes of campaign contributors and lobbyists, whose support they must maintain to stay competitive in the next election cycle.

In Arizona, the Clean Elections system--passed by voters in 1998 in an effort to take the corrupting influence of money out of politics by allowing candidates to receive public funding for statewide campaigns--has led to more competition among contenders, greater diversity in candidate fields and higher voter turnout. Political leaders throughout the country should view the Arizona reform as a successful start and begin to give serious consideration to the idea of public financing for all elections.

There are also other reform measures that could give candidates with fewer resources a fairer shot. These include, but are certainly not limited to, free radio and television air time for political candidates and increased public-affairs programming. Such measures would allow more candidates--especially those without great wealth or huge campaign chests--to present themselves to the public and voters to decide on the issues.

By discriminating against large groups of people and diminishing the power of the vote, the US election system has pushed voters and potential candidates away, sacrificing the possibility of a genuinely representative government. As a result, of all the countries that hold national elections, the United States ranks 139th in voter turnout since 1945.

The reforms mentioned above, while certainly not a complete list, would each go a long way in helping reform the US election system and insure better representation for the American people.

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