NY ‘Public Financing’ Commission Called Threat to Fusion Voting

(CN) – Taking aim at a new commission promised to make New York elections fairer, dozens of voters, candidates and political organizations claim in court that the resulting hit to fusion voting will ultimately hurt equality.

A longtime practice in the Empire State, fusion voting allows candidates to simultaneously appear on the ballot lines of major-party and third-party tickets.

In a 24-page complaint, one of two lawsuits filed over the issue Monday in Niagara County Supreme Court, a group of voters say this tradition is imperiled by the commission that Governor Andrew Cuomo cleared the way for in the 2019 budget agreement.

“The enactment of the budget statute, and its language concerning modification and abridgment of the right to fusion voting has already had a profound negative chilling effect on the right to fusion voting in both the 2019 and 2020 election cycles,” the complaint led by Linda Hurley states.

Cuomo’s Public Campaign Financing and Election Commission authorizes up to $100 million annually in public funds to implement public campaign financing for legislative and statewide offices. Fusion voting is implicated by a provision of the authorizing statute that refers to “multiple party candidate nominations and/or designations.”

“Each recommendation made to implement a determination pursuant to this act shall have the force of law and shall supersede, where appropriate, inconsistent provisions of the election law unless modified or abrogated by statute prior to December 22, 2019,” the statute states.

Interpreting this language as authorizing the panel to make, modify or repeal laws pertaining to fusion voting, the commission’s challengers cast this as a violation of the New York Constitution’s separation of powers.

“The legislative power of the state shall be vested in the Senate and Assembly,” the Constitution says.

Lead plaintiff Hurley is joined by one other registered voter, six candidates, the left-leaning New York Working Families Party and the party’s co-chairs. They are represented by White Plains-based attorney Richard Brodsky.

The Conservative Party of New York filed the second lawsuit Monday, with their candidate Joseph Jastrzemski as the lead William Savino from the Buffalo firm Woods Oviatt Gilman represents this group.

Both complaints seek judgments declaring the Public Campaign Financing and Election Commission’s authorizing statute violates the state constitution by interfering with the right to fusion voting.

Representatives for the New York State Board of Elections did not respond to a request for comment. The governor’s office and leaders of the state Senate and Assembly are listed as co-defendants.

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