A sample ballot from New York. Note that the Conservative Party has nominated the entire Republican slate, while only half of the Democratic candidates have secured the Working Families nomination.
Given that major changes to the electoral system seem to be off the national agenda at least until the Liberals are replaced in office, or perhaps reduced to a minority in parliament, it may be worthwhile for proponents of reform to consider some other options. In this post, I’ll discuss one such option: electoral fusion.
Electoral fusion is a system in which the same candidate can be nominated simultaneously by more than one party. Such candidates are listed on the ballot separately with the label of each party by which they have been nominated. Votes received by that candidate under each label can be reported separately, but they are added together for the purpose of selecting a winner.
The practice of electoral fusion is largely confined to the United States. In recent years, the most prominent user of electoral fusion has been the Working Families Party, a small social democratic party formed in 1998 by labour and community organizations and activists from the similarly oriented but short-lived New Party. The WFP differs from most American parties in two major respects. First, it rarely enters any candidates of its own into competition, preferring to leave candidates from other parties to try to win the WFP’s nomination. Second, the WFP is explicitly organized on the basis of class interest, which wouldn’t be unusual in most democracies but certainly sets the WFP apart from the major parties in the United States. Fusion voting is especially important in New York, where at least five minor parties regularly issue endorsements of major party candidates.
The long-standing alliance between Labour and the Cooperative Party in the UK can also be viewed as a more restricted kind of electoral fusion, demonstrating that fusion can be viable in the context of the more cohesive parties that are characteristic of parliamentary democracies. Members of Labour are permitted to maintain dual membership in the Cooperative Party, and Labour candidates may seek the Cooperative nomination. The Cooperative Party, in turn, only nominates candidates from the Labour Party. Nevertheless, nominations are competitive — although the Cooperative Party may nominate only candidates from Labour, it is under no obligation to nominate anyone at all. Candidates who desire the Cooperative nomination must convince the party that they will champion the Cooperative platform in office. Candidates who secure both nominations appear on the ballot once, with their affiliation listed as “Labour and Cooperative”.
Electoral fusion provides for more freedom of political expression in the electoral process without the risk of vote-splitting or the need to to adopt a completely different electoral system. The practice is also compatible with alternative electoral systems, both proportional and majoritarian. Supporters of proportional representation may wish to consider pushing for electoral fusion as a partial fix for some of FPTP’s flaws, and possibly as a stepping stone to more fundamental electoral reform, while those who oppose proportional representation on balance may also be convinced that fusion would go some way towards correcting the admitted defects of FPTP that motivate supporters of PR.