Leave cross-endorsements alone

Do you recall all the concerns voters raised after the last election because they were thoroughly confused when some candidate names appeared twice on the ballot, under both a major party and minor party line?

No, we don't either - and that is because there wasn't any mass confusion, only a few minor, inconsequential problems.

But to hear Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. explain things to the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee you would think otherwise.

"I believe there is potential for confusion the way our system works now," said the Brooklyn Democrat. He wants a law prohibiting candidate names from appearing more than once on a ballot. The suggested changes would also ban a party from endorsing a candidate who is not registered with that party.

The senator said he worries about "Super PACS creating sham parties out of whole cloth and spending significant amounts of money to confuse voters."

This appears to be a solution in search of a problem. The GAE committee received no evidence of significant voter confusion or attempts to abuse the process. A wide group of advocates lined up in opposition to ending cross-endorsements, among them the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, Common Cause and ACLU.

What this is about is strengthening the all powerful hand of the two major parties and further marginalizing minor parties. And in Connecticut sometimes it appears there is only one major party - Democrats.

Currently minor parties in Connecticut, having earned ballot access by the performance of their candidates in prior elections, can cross-endorse Democrats or Republicans. The progressive Working Families Party (WFP), for example, cross-endorsed many Democrats in the 2012 election - including Sen. Williams. These candidates appeared twice - on the Democratic and WFP lines.

Some Republican candidates also got names on ballots twice. In 2012 Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon, trying to burnish her image as a maverick, aggressively sought and received the endorsement of the Independent Party. She still didn't win.

In 2010, however, the WFP vote carried Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to his narrow victory over Republican Tom Foley. If registrars counted only Democratic votes, Mr. Foley would be governor, outpolling the Democrat by nearly 20,000 votes. Instead the 26,308 votes Gov. Malloy received on the WFP line provided his 6,404-vote victory margin.

A candidate doesn't have to accept a third-party endorsement. If a candidate doesn't like what a party stands for he or she can say, "No thanks."

But the allure of seeing that name twice on a ballot is not easy to refuse. Yet it can cause headaches for major party candidates. The WFP, for example, pushes hard on such issues as requiring "living wage" salaries, tougher corporate regulation; and it was in the forefront of the fight for mandatory paid sick leave in Connecticut. A Democrat tied to that agenda may be vulnerable to a centrist Republican challenger. And having accepted the cross-endorsements, a winning candidate can expect calls from the third party about its agenda.

Sen. Williams, it seems, would just as soon not have the option.

These cross-endorsements, also allowed in the states of New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, Mississippi, South Carolina and New Hampshire, can play an important role in the democratic process. A voter who casts a vote for a Republican on the Libertarian line or a Democrat on the WFP line is sending a message about priorities.

Cross-endorsements can boost voter participation. As former Connecticut Secretary of the State Miles S. Rapoport noted in his testimony to the GAE, "polling shows that the people who are least likely to vote are most interested in minor parties."

Mr. Rapoport is now president of Demos, a nonprofit that works for greater ballot access. It too opposes the attempt to end cross-endorsements in the state.

Without the ability to cross-endorse, the only choice for a third party is to run a candidate who is often either irrelevant or plays the role of spoiler.

Given such serious challenges as fixing a troubled economy, balancing a budget and reforming firearms laws, Sen. Williams and his colleagues should stop fiddling around with a proposal that serves only narrow interests.

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