Connecticut election laws on fusion voting have mixed legal precedent

Connecticut is one of only eight states in the nation that allows “fusion voting,” a system that allows a candidate to appear more than once on the ballot and the nominee for two or more political parties.

However, some experts say a bill passed in 2013 that placed restrictions on fusion voting could be illegal.

Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, writes “states are free to ban fusion if they wish, but they cannot do so in a discriminatory manner.” He points out a case in Pennsylvania in 1999 – Patriot Party of Allegheny County v. Allegheny County Department of Elections – in which a similar law was struck down by a U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Pennsylvania’s restriction on the small Patriot Party from cross-endorsing candidates, while allowing major parties to do so violated the “right to equal protection of the laws.”

Robert Wigton, professor of political science at Eckerd University and author of the book The Parties in Court: American Political Parties and the Constitution, says Connecticut’s law “raises some interesting questions.”

“In the Partiot Party litigation the anti-fusion law was found to violate equal protection by putting a special burden on third parties from which major parties were exempt. That line of attack is probably available to challenge the Connecticut law. “

A law passed in 2013 and signed by Governor Dannel Malloy restricted fusion voting to parties that received more than 15,000 votes in the previous election. This essentially created a differentiation between major and minor parties.

Malloy was cross-endorsed by the WFP in his 2010 race against Tom Foley and received 26,308 votes from the WFP ticket, safely above the 15,000 benchmark that he would sign into law.

Malloy won that election by a margin of only 20,000 votes.

Public Act 13-180 claimed to prevent “voter confusion” and was pushed by 2013 Senate President Donald Williams, who, like Malloy, was cross-endorsed by the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party.

Professor Wigton says that courts today would more likely give weight to court precedents such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1997 Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party which allowed state restrictions on cross-endorsement or the Patriot Party decision which barred restrictions rather than “speculative worries on the part of the state.”

The bill was opposed by the Independent Party – which barely cleared the margin with 17,629 votes in the gubernatorial election – and the Working Families Party. However, the creation of a 15,000 vote requirement meant fusion voting rights were secured for those political parties whose candidate had won while eliminating that possibility for others.

The Working Families Party claimed a number of victories in the August primaries, with their candidates securing wins in several key areas such as Bridgeport and Stamford. Although, the candidates ran on a Democratic ticket, they were listed under both the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party ballot.

Since the primaries, the WFP has cross endorsed 92 democrats in the upcoming election.

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