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Upcoming gubernatorial primary could expose problems with fusion voting

Jen Russo

New York’s Sept. 9 primary highlights what one central New York election official sees as a weakness in state election law.

Onondaga County Democratic Election Commissioner Dustin Czarny says New York is one of only three states that uses what’s called fusion voting on Election Day, which allows people to run on multiple lines. Those votes are then combined, or fused, toward the grand total for a candidate.

Czarny says that leads to candidates' names in several places on the November ballot.

“Both the governor and Astorino, his challenger, have set up other minor party lines, to get more lines on the ballot," Czarny said. "We have the Women’s Equality Line and the Stop Common Core line. I do think it creates a little bit of confusion for the voter on where to cast their ballot. Other states don’t do this, and I think it’s something New York should look at after this election.”

What could get dicey in the upcoming primary is that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are voted for separately, ultimately creating the ticket that will go on the Democratic line in November.

The campaign of the more liberal Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, Tim Wu, is picking up steam and if he gets more primary votes than Cuomo's choice, Kathy Hochul, it would impact the November ballot and the number of votes Cuomo could get in the general election.  

“The Cuomo-Hochul ticket would still appear on the Independence and Working Family Party lines, while a Cuomo-Wu ticket would appear on the Democratic line," Czarny explained. "Thus they would be different tickets, and their votes would not be fused. The governor would have to win with all the votes on the Democratic line. I personally think that points out a little flaw in our system.”

Czarny says if Wu were to win the primary, things would quickly get tricky leading up to the November election.

"You could theoretically, and I personally doubt this will happen, but theoretically, you could see an instance where someone could get a majority of votes, but the person who got the minority of votes wins the office because of some vague election law,” Czarny said.

Czarny says this ballot line merry-go-round also has implications beyond the election.

"This election doesn’t just determine the governor’s race, it determines seeding; who’s on line A for the next four years," Czarny said. "And it also determines the weighted votes for individual party members."

He adds that while elections officials and politicians across the state have talked about getting rid of fusion voting in the past, nothing has ever come of it.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.