Friday, June 30, 2006

Working Families Party is Born in Oregon!

This has been news since Tuesday, and so far I've only seen the Statesman Journal cover it (although I certainly could have missed other citations). The Secretary of State has officially placed the Working Families Party onto the ballot in Oregon, allowing them to nominate and seek to elect candidates in general elections:
The Party’s now-official status was earned with the submission of more than 19,000 signatures of Oregon registered voters to the Secretary of State’s office through a signature drive led by ACORN, a community organization, and a number of labor unions. The Party will now be able to nominate candidates for statewide and legislative offices beginning with this year’s general election.

Sponsors of the Oregon Working Families Party say that it will focus on a short list of “pocketbook” issues that affect the family budgets of all Oregonians, including affordable health care, family wage jobs, better schools, wider access to community colleges, universities and job training programs, and secure retirement benefits for working Oregonians and their family members.

Those issues will determine which candidates the Working Families Party chooses to support in upcoming elections.
If you're not familiar with the grandfather of US WFPs, in New York state, you may be thinking, "Big deal. Another fringe party with no shot of winning, offering only the chance to spoil someone else's candidacy by siphoning votes." But establishing the party is only step one. For 2007, Oregon's WFP will concentrate on convincing the electorate to also bless "fusion voting," an innovative way to both support good mainstream candidates, and still have the voices and interests of the smaller parties heard and heeded. In a nutshell, fusion voting allows a party to "nominate" the candidate of another party, placing it on a separate ballot line in addition to the original entry by the mainstream party.

What's the point of this? Suppose that there had been a WFP in Florida 2000, and while they truly felt Ralph Nader was the best candidate, they didn't want to hand George Bush a victory by not voting for Al Gore. On the other hand, they were wary of pledging their support for Gore, only to have that support (and the party's concerns) forgotten after the election. Fusion voting kills both birds with the same vote: a hypothetical Florida WFP could have endorsed Gore, and then--after Gore had been sworn in on January 20th--they could have pointed definitively to the number of WFP votes that put him over the top and said, "Now--what will you do for US?"

In a state with a high number of independents and a vibrant spectrum of voter philosophies, an idea like fusion voting is a natural. Wanna make Ted mindful of the demands from erstwhile Sorenson and Hill voters? Wanna keep Ron Saxton in line by reminding him about the Starrett-heads? Fusion does the trick--and does it without throwing the election into fractional chaos.

The great thing about Oregon's WFP is that they are almost entirely a kitchen-table party. No God, guns or gays--just real issues that impact every Oregonian. No wonder they made the ballot:
Tim Nesbitt, a member of the Steering Committee of the Working Families Party, notes that a statewide poll conducted earlier this year by Grove Insight found that a whopping 72% of Oregon voters say they find the Working Families Party appealing.

“Our issues have broad appeal,” says Nesbitt, “and the major parties would be wise to work with us to solve the problems that are squeezing family budgets.”