New Jerseyers want merger elections.
At least, that’s according to a new survey conducted by Braun Research on behalf of the Washington-based think tank New America Foundation. The survey polled 800 New Jersey residents about political polarization, bipartisanship and merger elections, and found that 81% of respondents think bipartisanship is not working as it should and 68% said merger elections make citizens better can express ‘ views.
OK, yes, the poll commissioned by New America aligns perfectly with the group’s own support for the merger election, which allows a candidate to appear on the ballot as a multiparty candidate. But if you look at how long Americans have been expressing dissatisfaction with the situation in the United States, the results have an element of truth. The last time the Gallup poll on this subject reported a satisfaction rating above 50% was in January 2004.
“Many voters feel they don’t really love either party. They want more options,” Lee Drutman, senior fellow of New America’s political reform program, told me.
Drutman, who summarized the poll results in a report for New America, is the author of Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America. So he’s clearly not a fan of bipartisan control over our political system. Still, he said, the poll results shocked him a bit.
“Even with my expectations of how bad things are and how unhappy voters across the country are with their lack of choices, I was still a little surprised by the widespread acknowledgment that our two-party system appears to be fundamentally broken,” he said he.
Merger voting is not common in the United States and is only available to voters in a few states such as New York and Connecticut. But guys like Drutman want to take it to the Garden State.
At least one lawsuit is now working its way through the courts — merger advocates sued New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way for not allowing Rep. Tom Malinowski’s name to appear on November ballots as a Democratic and Moderate Party candidate — and more Lawsuits are to be expected.
Some supporters of the merger election had hoped Malinowski would win a third term two weeks ago. But the courts here don’t work that fast, and both sides agreed to settle the issue after the election (Malinowski lost to Tom Kean Jr.).
Here’s how Fusion works: Imagine I’m running for mayor of Bloomfield as a Republican. If, say, the Liberal Party supported me as well, I would appear on the ballot as both a Republican candidate and a Liberal Party candidate. The latter endorsement might help me win over some Democratic voters who otherwise wouldn’t dare vote for the GOP. This is how Rudy Guiliani won, in part for the first time, the mayoral election of New York City, where voters have fusion as an option.
So if voters are so disillusioned with either party, why not vote for third parties? The libertarian, who ran in the 5th congressional district this year, won about 1,200 votes. The two major party candidates, Democratic winner Rep. Josh Gottheimer and Republican Frank Pallotta, won over 263,000 votes combined.
I asked Drutman about it, and he said voters understand that you need a majority to win, and most third-party candidates can’t come close. Fusion allows a major party candidate to form a successful coalition with like-minded voters.
“However you feel about Democrats or Republicans, chances are you’re a very strong believer that either is the lesser of two evils, and you don’t want to support the worse of two evils by casting your vote throw it away.” he said.
Beau Tremitiere, a lawyer for the non-profit organization Protect Democracy, is representing two voters in the merger case against the secretary of state. Tremitiere said one benefit of the merger election would be that it would limit candidates’ ability to pretend to moderate their stance after winning their party’s nomination.
We saw many examples of this across the country just a few weeks ago, when Republicans who campaigned in their primaries as outspoken anti-abortion candidates attempted to moderate their stance in order to appeal to pro-choice voters in the general election. Here in New Jersey, Kean won a crowded GOP primary after Republicans bragged about his support of Donald Trump’s agenda — then played the “Trump Who?” game during his general election campaign.
Critics of the merger election have said this type of voting – in which a candidate appears twice – would stun voters.
“It should be called a confusion election, not a merger election,” said Camden County Democratic Counsel Steve Ayscue. “Who do you think you’re kidding? Why complicate a very simple process?”
Tremitiere thinks that’s nonsense.
“New Jersey voters are smart and adaptable,” he told me. “And it’s not confusing to allow a voter to indicate which nominating party better represents the reasons they are voting for a candidate. In New York and Connecticut, there are cross nominations on the ballot every year, with no problems. Why should New Jersey be any different?
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