One of the great paradoxes of America’s polarized political system is that people seem to hate it, yet few can conceive of a way out.
Every once in a while, a third-party candidate catches fire — as the quirky billionaire Ross Perot did in the 1992 presidential race, appealing to a chunk of voters who were unhappy with deficits and trade deals. More often, though, such candidates fizzle.
Many people wring their hands about political polarization and calcification, but grudgingly accept it as the inevitable result of the way voters are sorting themselves by geography or education, or the baleful effects of social media and cable news, or the product of slicing and dicing by political operatives who stoke fear and outrage to win elections.
One of the latest and more intriguing efforts to try to change the system comes in the form of two forthcoming lawsuits by Protect Democracy, a nonprofit group, and a new outfit called the Moderate Party.
Starting the week after Thanksgiving, the two groups separately plan to sue the State of New Jersey to allow fusion voting, a practice the state banned in the 1920s. It’s legal in only a few states, including Connecticut, New York and Oregon.
Under fusion voting, multiple parties can nominate the same candidate, who then appears more than once on the ballot. Proponents say it allows voters who don’t feel comfortable with either major party to express their preferences without “wasting” votes on candidates with no hope of winning.
In New York, there are two prominent fusion parties: the Working Families Party, which often endorses Democratic candidates, and the Conservative Party, which typically backs Republicans.
What’s different about the New Jersey effort is that it is driven by the political center; the Moderate Party was co-founded by Richard A. Wolfe, a partner at the law firm Fried Frank and a former small-town mayor who told me he was repulsed by the Republican Party’s embrace of conspiracy theories and its fealty toward Donald Trump, but could not stomach voting for a Democrat.
Wolfe was a supporter of Representative Tom Malinowski, a moderate Democrat who lost his re-election bid to Thomas Kean Jr., a Republican. But when the Moderate Party petitioned the New Jersey secretary of state to allow Malinowski to be nominated on its ballot line, she ruled the move illegal.
The Moderate Party and Protect Democracy had originally hoped to file their suits appealing the ruling months ago, but held off amid concerns that the courts would not want to weigh in until after the election. Republicans also raised questions about the Moderate Party when news reports emerged that the House Majority PAC, a Democratic-aligned outside group linked to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was underwriting the party’s ads in support of Malinowski.