Published in The Enterprise, 2-9-98

Fission Politics or Fusion Candidacies?

by Rocky Anderson

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fiorello LaGuardia, Earl Warren and Ronald Reagan.

What do they have in common? They each appeared on election ballots as fusion candidates – running as the nominees of more than one party at the same time.

The Utah Republican Party has forbidden its candidates from running as candidates of other parties. Therefore, since the Republicans have a lock on the Utah State Legislature, we are about to see a general ban on fusion candidacies enacted into law. With the passage of H.B. 75, no one will be permitted to appear on an election ballot as a candidate of more than one political party.

A ban on fusion candidacies will be just another chiseling away at our freedom – and at any chance for third-party successes – for the sake of partisan politics.

If people want to nominate as their party’s candidate a person who is also a candidate of another party, they should be free to do so. What is it that Rob Bishop and the Republican Party are afraid of? And what could possibly justify a restriction on the right of people to nominate a party candidate who is also running on another party’s ticket?

Third parties – which comprise a vital part of American politics – can indeed influence elections. In 1980, during the presidential race in New York, there were more votes cast for the Democratic nominee, Jimmy Carter, than under the Republican column, for Ronald Reagan. However, Reagan’s votes as the Conservative Party nominee put him over the top. Although not everyone would agree that the final result was beneficial to our nation, the Conservative Party certainly should have been free, as it was, to list Ronald Reagan as its candidate.

One claim in favor of the fusion-candidacy ban is that multiple-party candidacies are confusing to voters. Do the advocates of the ban really have such disdain for Utah voters that they think we cannot figure out our ballots? As Justice Stevens recently wrote in his dissenting opinion in a case involving a statutory ban on fusion candidacies, “While the State describes some imaginative theoretical sources of voter confusion that could result from fusion candidacies, in my judgment the argument that the burden on First Amendment interests is justified by this concern is meritless and severely underestimates the intelligence of the typical voter.” Utah ballots have included several fusion candidates over the years, with no evidence of any confusion.

We should all encourage, rather than further marginalize, third parties. A national consensus about achieving a balanced budget came about largely because of Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy in 1992. He forced the Democratic and Republican candidates to address the issue of a balanced budget, leading to a badly needed recognition of the past destructive fiscal policies of both major parties. Likewise, the Democrats and Republicans, together, have been stalling passage of major campaign finance reforms, which are unlikely to be enacted into law unless a strong third-party effort keeps the feet of the two major parties to the political fire.

The Natural Law Party, the Libertarian Party, the Reform Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Progressive Party – they all have views that should be considered and discussed. Our democracy is made stronger with a diversity of views and a vigorous dialogue. Third parties should be free to nominate as their candidates whomever they please (with the candidates’ consent, of course), even if their nominees are also running on the ticket of another party.

If the Utah Republican Party wishes to save its own members from nominating a person who is a candidate of another party, that’s for the Republicans to decide. But the desire of a few Republican leaders to restrict the freedoms of members of their own party cannot justify passage of a law that would likewise curtail the freedoms of others.

Instead of placing more partisan barriers between people and their parties, it is high time we do what we can to encourage members of different parties to find common political ground. Notwithstanding the desire of some to monopolize our political institutions and to divide us in order to maintain their grip on power, a unified effort by different parties in support of the same candidates may help to reduce the nastiness, partisanship, and incivility that have become a mainstay of our nation’s political process. And greater unity among people in our local communities, our state, and our nation will be promoted by more, rather than less, consensus-building among political parties.