Buried in the inscrutable tangle of Pennsylvania’s election code, nested several layers deep in a technical subsection, and totaling all of six lines is a clause that dissolves the power of minor parties in the state.
Although it amounts to an administrative rule—it’s one of several requirements for submitting a valid filing paper—it’s a fingerprint of the national party realignment that occurred at the end of the 19th century, a fight that eventually calcified the two-party system as we know it today.
Recently, these few lines have become the centerpiece of a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, launched by one of the minor parties the rule effectively neuters—the Working Families Party. If the WFP suit succeeds, the clause would be weeded from the election code—a relatively minor edit, but one that could change elections in the state dramatically. It would allow, for the first time in nearly a century, an electoral maneuver that was once commonplace but has since become rare in all but a few states: running a candidate under more than one party, a process known as “electoral fusion.”
As it stands, while voters can officially choose any party, the only options commonly considered “legitimate” are Democrat or Republican. But a record number of people insist that neither option represents them—42 percent, the highest Gallup has seen in 25 years. Because of that, some people just don’t vote, while others, like 26-year-old Virginian Nathan Mowery, are voting for a third party to register their frustration with the two-party system. “I’m casting a protest vote because it makes it visible to major parties that there are people who are motivated to vote but are unwilling to vote for either of them,” he told The New York Times. In the current party system, those votes are considered “wasted.” Fusion provides a legitimate channel for people like Mowery: You can vote for the party that champions your values, and, when aggregated with those of the major party they’re fused with, that vote could have a significant impact.
Issues that the major parties have glossed over or ignored completely often find a home in minor parties. The Working Families Party, for example, has for years been fighting for paid sick days, free universal preschool, and untangling the racist, gerrymandered districts that have put a stranglehold on state legislatures—and it has done so without the kind of corporate oversight that turns people away from the Democratic Party. For people who want these issues at the forefront, said Jordan Yeager, one of the lawyers on the Pennsylvania case, fusion makes their voices heard.