But they agree on one issue: ending the practice of cross-endorsements would be a bad idea. The two parties were part of a loose coalition of disparate political groups that spoke out at a public hearing at the legislative office building Monday on Senate Bill 1146, which would ban the practice.
“We think the cross-endorsement process is good for democracy and good for the voters,’’ said Karen Hobart Flynn, senior vice president for strategy and programs at Common Cause.
Connecticut is one of just a handful of states that permits cross-endorsements, also known as fusion voting. Under the system, major party candidates can appear on more than one ballot line. Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s endorsement by the Working Families party was widely believed to have provided the edge he needed to win in the closely contested 2010 gubernatorial election.
Those who want to eliminate cross-endorsements say voters become confused when a candidate’s name appears multiple times on the same ballot.
“I believe there is potential for confusion the way our system works now,” Senate President Donald Williams, a Democrat, told members of the legislature’s government administration and elections committee.
When Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, questioned whether the legislature would be “sending the wrong message” by barring cross-endorsements, Williams raised the specter of powerful and well-funded outside groups manipulating the system.
“[I'll] tell you what I’m much more worried about…Super PACS creating sham parties out of whole cloth and spending significant amounts of money to confuse voters,” Williams said. ”I think that’s a much greater risk.”
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the cross-endorsement system has resulted in many voters voting for their candidates numerous times on different ballot lines. That wasn’t a problem with the old-fashioned lever machines, but the new optical scan technology requires additional steps, she said.
“We should consider now how to accommodate a growing number of minor parties in such a way that we have minimal voter confusion,” Merrill said. She called for further study of the matter.
But groups ranging from the NAACP to the Libertarian Party of Connecticut say no changes are necessary. “We know the impulse behind this bill and many like it,” Joshua Katz, secretary of the Libertarian Party of Connecticut, wrote in testimony to the panel. “Having closed off so many of the directions available to third parties to grow — banishing us from democratic debates, locking us out of media outlets — cross endorsement is one of the few opportunities left to many third parties struggling for a part in American democracy.
Former Secretary of the State Miles Rapoport, now president of Demos, a New York-based public policy group, agreed. The bill “is about parties trying to scope out how to gain advantage or not lose advantage,” he said.
“Connecticut has made tremendous strives in opening up the process and giving voters more choices,” Rapoport said. “And this is a major step backward. This is an attempt to cut minor parties off at the knees by forcing them into irrelevancy or spoiler mode and i think thats a shame.”
As for Williams’ suggestion that powerful PACs could “game the system,” Rapoport said those were “hypothetical concerns.”
“To take the mallet of eliminating cross endorsements … on the basis of something that hasn’t happened but might happen seems to me an overreaction in the extreme,” he said.