The New Mexico Legislature has made great strides in the last few years toward opening up our state elections to more voters. Same-day voter registration was passed in 2019, automatic voter registration was codified and they made it easier to vote absentee. Historic turnout in 2020, especially among first time and younger voters is evidence these democracy reforms worked.
The 2021 session has several proposals that build on past success, including increasing access to polling sites especially in tribal communities, opening primaries to independent and minor party voters, and using ranked choice voting for certain elections.
You may also hear about an important “new” proposal called “fusion voting.” While new to many, fusion voting has been used successfully in several states for centuries, before it was targeted by major parties for elimination. In the simplest terms, fusion voting is a system that allows multiple political parties to support the same candidate. Under fusion voting, a Democratic candidate nominated by the Working Families Party would appear on the WFP ballot line in the election, or similarly a Republican candidate endorsed by the Conservative Party would appear on their line.
Fusion voting was a common practice in New Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1896 the Populist Party in New Mexico endorsed Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Harvey Butler Ferguson and the platform of the state Democratic party as well. There were fusion candidates in Rio Arriba, Socorro, Sierra, Lincoln and Otero counties in the 1910 election. In the 1916 elections, “Independents fused with Democrats in the counties of the Hispano north; the Progressive Party handed its delegates over to the Democratic nominating convention; and county Democrats effectively invited unhappy Republicans into their camp,” wrote Dr. Phillip Gonzales in the New Mexico Historical Review in 2015.
But like in many other states, progress made under fusion was targeted for elimination as major parties made a play to consolidate power. Why does this matter? With only two choices, we are stuck in a dualistic democracy. You vote for the Republican or the Democrat. Voting for a third-party candidate, if one is even available, is considered “throwing away” your vote. Worse yet, voting for a non-viable third party candidate can lead to a “spoiler” effect where an even lesser preferred candidate could win the election.
Fusion voting provides more choices by allowing voters to express support for third-party platforms and impact the outcome of the election. This is the opposite of, and the antidote to, the binary choices voters are faced with in each election. Under a fusion system, voters who don’t fit neatly into the Democratic or Republican boxes but don’t want to cast a protest vote can participate constructively in politics.
Today, eight states allow fusion voting, and once upon a time, all 50 states allowed it. Long before third parties got branded as the reason bad presidential candidates won elections, they played a critical role in American politics. Third parties took part in the fight to abolish slavery, the institution of the eight-hour day, unemployment insurance, women’s suffrage, Social Security, child-labor laws. It was third parties that introduced these “radical” ideas into the mainstream of consciousness. Third-party politicos dared to dream of a better world before major party bosses deemed them conventional wisdom.
This year we are bringing it back and hope voters and legislators will agree that more choices are better for our democracy. Regardless of party, fusion will mean more options for voters, better policies for working people, and a stronger democracy.
Eric Griego is State Director of the Working Families Party and a former Democratic State Senator. The views in this column are the author’s alone and do not reflect the view or opinions of New Mexico In Depth. This column first appeared in New Mexico In Depth’s 2021 Legislative Special Edition.