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Senate leader says commission should not change fusion voting

Karen Dewitt
WBFO Albany Correspondent

A commission designing a public campaign finance system for the state’s political races is poised to limit fusion voting, or the ability for candidates to run on multiple party lines. Now the leader of the State Senate is saying that it would be better if the commission leaves it alone.

The commission, made up of appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders, is likely later on Monday to vote on a proposal by Cuomo appointee and leader of the State Democratic Party, Jay Jacobs. It would make it more difficult for minor party candidates to qualify for an automatic spot on the ballot.

Currently, a party needs to get 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election, held every four years, in order to quality. Proposals that could be approved included requiring a party get 100,000 or 150,000 votes, and that they would also have to reach that threshold in Presidential election years as well.

Minor parties including the left leaning working Families Party, who have feuded with Cuomo say the change would severely weaken their party, and might not even be constitutional. They have taken the commission to court, as has the state’s Conservative Party.  

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, in an interview with public radio and TV, says she thinks the commission should have stayed out of fusion voting.

“Personally I would prefer that it be a separate conversation,” Stewart-Cousins said. “If there was going to be a conversation at all.”

And she says her aim is not to weaken minor political parties.

“I’m not trying to destroy parties or make it impossible,” Stewart-Cousins said. “ I definitely know, however, that we must reform our campaign finance (system).”

The Senate Democrats’ appointees on the commission have often voted differently than the appointees of the governor or Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, but the governor’s and assembly’s designees outnumber them.  

Jacobs, is the de facto chair of the commission, said recently on public radio station WCNY’s the Capitol Pressroom that the proposal is meant to weed out parties that are what he calls “sham parties.”

“We have to make sure that people who run for office on these party lines are running on lines that are actually credible parties that have some demonstrated level of support,” Jacobs said on Nov. 14.

He says serious political parties won’t be hurt by any new requirements.

Senator Stewart-Cousins says she’s waiting to see what the commission ultimately recommends, in a report due out Thanksgiving Eve.

If lawmakers do not act to change the commission’s recommendations, they automatically become law in late December.  But the Senate Leader says that’s not the end. She says  the legislature can act in early 2020 to supersede those changes.

“We have the opportunity to come back in January, and February,” she said.

Some members of New York’s democratic congressional delegation are sticking up for the Working Families Party. Two incumbent Democrats in upstate battle ground district, Anthony Brindisi of Utica and Antonio DelGado of the Hudson Valley, on Twitter urged the commission to reconsider the plan.

Senator Chuck Schumer, also in a tweet, said the Commission should focus on the “worthy goal of reducing BIG money in politics, not on ending fusion voting.” Schumer, the former chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says the Working Families Party helps Democrats win in tight races, especially in the House.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.