This is going to be the longest correction/clarification in modern newspapering history.
But, it’s also going to be a springboard for something I have been writing about for more than 20 years. The fact is what should have been a straight forward story about the Working Families Party endorsements for Town Board only works to exemplify why cross endorsements by minor parties — or, the cooler word for it now a days, I guess, is “fusion” voting — should be abolished in this state.
I’ll start with the correction. I reported last week that the WFP had endorsed its own candidates for Colonie Town Board, and it did. But, the three candidates — Jessica Mahar, Tim Nichols and Graham Knowles — are not enrolled in the WFP and are instead Democrats who asked for WFP support. That was my mistake.
After the WFP endorsed those three, the Democrats picked their own slate of candidates — incumbents David Green and Melissa Jeffers and newcomer Alvin Gamble. Of the three, only Gamble asked the WFP for its line but it had already endorsed the three mentioned above, said Susan Weber, of the Colonie WFP.
Now, it kind of remains unclear what will happen. (As an aside, Green is now looking to become a town judge rather than a Town Board member so the Democrats will have to find another candidate to run for Town Board. I guess, since the three WFP candidates are also enrolled Dems, the Dems could shift their endorsement to one of those candidates but we will have to wait and see.)
One possibility is the three WFP candidates circulate designating petitions and run on that line in November. That certainly makes the most sense, and would be the only available course of action in all but eight states that still allow cross endorsements.
Since New York Election Law does still allow candidates to run on more than one line there are a few more scenarios to consider.
The three WFP candidates could collect petitions, drop out and allow the Committee to Fill Vacancies to do what its name implies and give one or all three endorsed Democrats the coveted line.
The three WFP candidates might not submit petitions at all, and since the party did not authorize anyone else to run on its line, known as a Wilson Pakula, there would not be any board candidates with a “WFP” next to their name in November.
Also, since the three are already enrolled in the Democratic Party they could collect signatures on that line and primary the party’s picks in June. If they in fact don’t like the Democrat’s picks, or their plans for the town, then more power to them and let the voters decide.
I have spoken to a WFP and Democratic Party leaders in town and I don’t think they expect the last scenario to play out, though from where I sit that would be the most fun. Nobody likes a primary except those who write for newspapers.
Truth is, I don’t think anyone knows how it will all shake out. Petitions are already on the streets and without doing something, Democrats and the WFP are worried about the Republicans stealing the WFP line.
As of right now, it’s a fairly simple process. There is talk of the governor suspending the Opportunity to Ballot, but given the headlines of late, he has more pressing issues to worry about — like old people and young women.
All it would take is collecting enough WFP designating petitions — this year it has been lowered due to COVID — to open the primary ballot to write in candidates. Given the relatively low number of enrolled WFP members in town, a few dozen votes could win a primary.
It may sound like a shady way to steal a line, and that is because it most certainly is. It is also, under the Byzantine Election Law, a perfectly legal maneuver and has been done countless times.
It all goes back to the evils of allowing cross endorsement. There, of course, pros and cons, but the cons far outweigh any benefits to democracy.
Extending the benefit of the doubt, one value of cross endorsements is allowing the minor parties to push their ideology into major party platforms. Running on just a minor party is all but impossible, and gets more impossible as the races get bigger and the districts cover more geography.
The minor parties know that — it’s not rocket science and it’s not math any more advanced than counting — and rather than try to run their own candidates a slim chance of winning, they align with major parties. The major parties are receptive to the parasitic relationship because the minor parties deliver a certain number of votes, often enough to swing a close election.
In a perfect world, that’s a fine and fair process.
Elections in New York state are all too often anything but fine and fair.
The fact is, cross endorsements confuse voters and open the process to corruption. There is a reason they have catch names like Working Families Party and Independence Party and to a lesser extent the Conservative Party.
Sad to say, the majority of voters really don’t pay close attention to this type of thing but still fulfill their civic duty every year by voting. They go into the booth not really too enamored with the Democrats or Republicans, sees an “I” and thinks “I’m independent” and flicks a lever for that candidate. Little does the voter know the Independence Party sold its soul to the major party with the best chance of winning and who gave cousin Johnny the best job.
To be fair, the WFP and Conservative Party do still have a hierarchy true to their party’s core values and as such, the WFP generally sides with the Democrats and the Conservatives with Republicans.
For all the controversy surrounding Gov. Andrew Cuomo — namely old people and young women — one good thing he has done of late is requiring more votes for a minor party line to get an automatic spot on the ballot. The last two, in fact, are the WFP and Conservative Party. The state and its voters would be better served to abolish cross endorsements all together.
If the views of the WFP and Conservative Party and other minor parties are in fact that popular, they should run their own candidates.
Jim Franco can be reached at [email protected] or 518-878-1000