WEST SENECA, N.Y. — The state Conservative Party plans to file a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Erie County later this month.

  • State Conservative Party filing a lawsuit to protect fusion voting
  • Conservatives believe the governor, through a Public Campaign Finance Commission, is trying to eliminate fusion voting
  • Last week, the governor appointed the state Democratic Committee chairman to the commission

It will ask a judge to make a declaratory statement that fusion voting is protected by the state constitution and that it is unconstitutional for any body besides the state Legislature to make law. Although now uncommon throughout the rest of the country, in New York, candidates are allowed to run on multiple party lines and combine the total votes during an election, known as fusion voting.

"It's been part of our core, part of our history, part of our established laws. I mean, there are plenty of statutes in the election law that talk about fusion voting," NYS Conservative Party Executive Committee Member Ralph Lorigo said.

Opponents of fusion voting argue it gives minor parties undue influence and complicates elections. However, despite urging, the state Legislature has not taken the issue up.

"They won't do it," Lorigo said. "They won't do it because a great majority of those people win their elections on minor party lines, either be it the Conservative Line or the Working Families line, both sides of the aisle. This is an issue on both sides."

The Conservative Party believes the governor is trying to circumvent the Legislature through a commission established in the budget to address public campaign financing in New York. A few lines give the commission power to rule on fusion.

"98 percent of it is about public financing of elections and then thrown in there is those three sentences," Lorigo said.

The report is due December 1 and if the Legislature fails to vote against the recommendations before December 22, when it is not in session, those recommendations become law. A Pay Raise Commission last year limited outside income for lawmakers in the same fashion, but a judge later struck that down. Lorigo said he doesn't want to wait for a similar situation.

"We're going to ask a court, simply on a declaratory judgment basis, to acknowledge and declare that fusion voting is constitutionally protected," he said.

The suit will also argue the commission's scope, as written in the statute, is unconstitutional.

"Article 3 Section 1 of the New York Constitution clearly states the legislative power of the state shall be vested solely in the Senate and Assembly. No law shall be enacted except by bill," Lorigo said.

Working Families Party State Committee Member Jesse Lenney said the party supports public finance reform but not the elimination of fusion. The governor announced the commission members last week and Lenney says the appointment of state Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs is worrisome.

"What I've read in the statewide news is very concerning in terms of, not just his position towards us but in general, how he sort of runs the Democratic operation in Long Island," Lenney said.

Lorigo pointed out Jacobs led a vote in opposition to fusion shortly after becoming chair. The state Conservative Party is funding the lawsuit with it, voters and elected officials named as complainants.