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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Have to start somewhere

by John Brummett | June 16, 2022 at 2:58 a.m.


Since Arkansas voters apparently don't like common ground in politics, a dreamer turns his attention to fusion.

If we can't experience better politics, can't we at least dream?

"Fusion voting" happens when different parties nominate the same candidate for the same ballot and that candidate gets all the votes cast for him on all the lines. The idea is to elevate broadly inoffensive, appealing or moderate candidates over the extreme ones who fare well in our modern binary party structure, thriving on nose-held votes cast simply because of resentment of the other party.

Fusion voting was widespread in the United States in the 19th century. Then states started outlawing it because the main parties were disturbed that their control was threatened, which was the very idea.

Now only eight states have laws permitting it. But a new and simply named Moderate Party in New Jersey is in court for the right of free expression and assembly to qualify for the ballot and, if it chooses, nominate a candidate already nominated, probably by one of the major parties, though not necessarily.

It seems a sound-enough legal argument: If we otherwise meet the definition of a political party and jump through all the hoops required to nominate a candidate for the ballot under our banner, then we have the right to nominate the person we want, even if he or she is already going to be on the ballot as the nominee of the Democrats or the Republicans--or, I suppose, the Libertarians.

This Moderate Party sprang up from people who said they lacked a political home anymore and wanted to elevate the center-right and center-left over the seditionists of the new right and the intolerant illiberalism of the new left. Rather than try to run third-party alternatives, which seldom amount to anything, they settled on, whenever possible or advisable, siding with the more palatable or less nutty of the two party nominees to give him or her perhaps a leg up.

Arkansas is one of the last states where such a system would be accepted. We had that fledgling flash in the pan in the primaries last month advanced by Common Ground Arkansas and, among others, me.

I was right there with Jim Hendren, Archie Schaffer and the rest of the Common Ground ideal, dreaming of votes cast in the primaries not on the basis of philosophical purity but to take the best strategic shot at influencing the outcome in advancement of reasoned problem-solving and less hyperpartisan destructiveness.

But reasoned candidates got drubbed time and again in Republican legislative primaries by destructive zealots.

Strategic voting is a hard thing to sell against the long-embedded advantages of the two parties and the other-side hatred that dominates our voting patterns. It was easy for hyper-conservative Republican legislative incumbents to charge that the Common Ground movement was nothing but Democrats in disguise trying to elect liberals and hurt that nice Mr. Trump.

Prospects might be better on a national scale.

A state like Utah--highly conservative but widely rejecting of Trumpism's immorality--might with fusion voting give more votes than would otherwise be the case to a moderate appearing twice on the ballot against a hyper-conservative Republican running with Donald Trump's endorsement. A voter in a blue-state urban-suburban congressional district might be inclined toward a moderate appearing twice on the ballot against a modern-day progressive Democrat running on gender-pronoun sensitivity and semi-socialist aims.

Fusion voting is a retro-19th century idea for dreaming the surely-not-impossible dream of returning to a functional American politics with fewer Tom Cottons and more Mitt Romneys; with fewer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes and more Henry Cuellars, and with the very idea that 60 of 100 U.S. senators would agree on something being less far-fetched.

As for Arkansas in its present condition, I can't imagine in a statewide context that any option to the most-conservative alternative would generate any momentum other than for that most-conservative alternative. "Less conservatism" is not seen as virtuous by Fox and Newsmax viewers.

Let's say, just for sake of discussion, that Common Ground Arkansas became a political party calling itself the Common Ground Party, and won the right in court to nominate candidates for the general election ballot, then used that right to nominate Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones for governor on the grounds that he was more focused on practical Arkansas-based solutions and less extreme than Sarah Sanders.

Would Jones have a better chance to win by appearing on two lines of the ballot to Sanders' one? Would affiliation with "common ground" win Jones some votes he wouldn't otherwise have received? Would Sanders be under any new threat?

The answer is probably "no" all around. Sanders might even gain turnout from a perception of liberals ganging up on her.

But you don't change a culture in one election cycle. And you don't change it at all if you don't start somewhere. It's time for all ideas on deck.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



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