Can Your Vote Count Twice?

This year, progressive New Yorkers have the opportunity to make their vote count twice in the November elections. Legally.

Come again?

It's true, in a way. New York is one of a handful of states that allow multiple-party cross-nomination, or "fusion" - meaning that one candidate can appear on the ballot lines of more than one political party. This allows minor party supporters to show their support for their favored political party (and its issues) without wasting their vote on a noble but doomed candidate. All votes for a single candidate are added together to determine the winner, but votes on different lines are tallied separately, so their support is clear both to the candidate and the general public.

Right-wingers have used this tactic successfully in New York for years. Reaganites and Gingrichites could support "moderate" Republican George Pataki on the Conservative Party line - helping defeat Mario Cuomo while showing their allegiance to the Conservative Party's harder-edged pro-life, anti-regulation, pro-tax cuts for the rich agenda. And when the Conservative Party's 300,000 votes for Pataki gave him the margin of victory against Cuomo in 1994, that gave the Conservatives real power and leverage to move Pataki and the Republican Party to the right.

For years, progressives lacked a similar choice - rather, they had to choose between supporting the Democrat and splitting the vote by supporting a 3rd line candidate with little hope for success.

Not any more. Now backed by many of the state's largest unions and community groups, the Working Families Party has emerged as a credible and powerful alternative for working people, and for anyone unhappy with the Democratic Party (and uninspired by many of their candidates) but unwilling to concede to the Republican Right.

The Working Families Party has a strong progressive agenda (raising the minimum wage, expanding access to quality health care, dramatically increasing investment in education, and enacting full campaign finance reform are among its top priorities) and the grassroots heft and strategic smarts to make things happen. It took legislation to increase NY's minimum wage for 880,000 low-wage workers from the garbage heap to the top of the legislative agenda, pushing it through the State Assembly and coming close to gaining a vote in the State Senate. And this summer, the Rockland County Legislature passed WFP-sponsored "living wage" legislation to require companies receiving public contracts and subsidies to pay their workers a decent wage plus health care.

"What's interesting about the Working Families Party is that it uses the leverage it gets from winning votes on its line to fight for legislation that will really benefit working families," said party co-chair and United Auto Workers union political director Jim Duncan "If the WFP can win 100,000 or more votes on its line this Fall -- which I believe it can -- then it will mean real power for working people in this state."

At the top of the WFP's ticket this Fall are Presidential candidate Al Gore and Senate hopeful Hillary Clinton. The group is working hard to mobilize working-class voters, low-income community activists, and progressives to vote on its line - arguing both that its candidates are significantly better than their opponents, and that a vote on the WFP's ROW H will help hold them more accountable on its core issues.

"A vote for Al Gore and Hillary Clinton on ROW H really is a vote that counts twice," the WFP's literature states. "First, it counts towards their total and helps them win. But secondly, it shows the strength of working families, sends a powerful signal about the issues we care about, and will help hold them and other politicians accountable to us on issues like decent jobs, affordable health care, and education."

If local elections last year are any judge - the WFP won 3-10% of the vote in a series of municipal and county races - the votes cast on its line could prove to be the difference in what's shaping up to be a close election. And in the halls of Washington and Albany over the coming years, that could make a real difference for working families.

Ellen Kennedy is the chair of Citizen Action of New York. For more information on the Working Families Party, see www.votewfp.org or call 1-877-WFP-ROW-H.

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