“Fusion Could Lower the Temperature”

Bill Galston column in the WSJ:

There is mounting evidence that institutional changes below the level of constitutional amendments can increase opportunities for voters to express more-moderate sentiments. Fortunately, our federal system allows for more experimentation along these lines than is available in countries with more centralized political systems.

Ranked-choice voting has been employed at both the municipal and state level, with promising results. CEO turned political reformer Katherine Gehl helped persuade Alaska to endorse a new system that combines a nonpartisan primary with ranked-choice voting to pick the general-election winner from among the top four primary finishers. In their book, “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting,” political analyst E.J. Dionne and former Connecticut Secretary of State Miles S. Rapoport argue for adopting the Australian system, which requires all citizens to vote and enforces this requirement with a fine no larger than a parking ticket. (Full disclosure: I was a member of a working group, which included the book’s authors, that examined this option and recommended its adoption.)

A once-popular option—fusion voting—also deserves renewed attention. In this system, a candidate could be the nominee of more than one political party. The votes cast for this candidate would be tallied separately by party and then combined to determine the candidate’s total support. During much of the 19th century, most states used this system, which had its greatest effect in the three decades after the Civil War, when the two major parties enjoyed nearly equal support, allowing minor parties to influence election outcomes.

This system enabled voters, who weren’t comfortable with the stances of either major party, such as supporters of the Greenback and Populist parties, to cast a ballot without wasting their vote on a candidate with no chance of winning or inadvertently helping their less-preferred major-party candidate win. In addition, fusion voting forced the major-party candidates to compete for nominations. Also, candidates who cared about getting re-elected were more likely to see themselves as the head of a winning coalition and less likely to ignore the preferences of minor-party members of their coalition.

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