State Senate leader wants to end cross-endorsements

Connecticut’s experiment with New York-style fusion politics gave Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy two lines on the ballot in 2010, and he needed the votes cast on both to narrowly defeat Republican Tom Foley.

So, it’s a little surprising that a push to end cross-endorsements is coming from one of the governor’s strongest allies in the legislature, Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. Or that Malloy is open to the idea.

But Williams said the state’s current cross-endorsement law can create confusion, since it allows a candidate’s name to appear multiple times on the same ballot, and it theoretically invites mischief from Super PACs, which can make unlimited independent expenditures.

For the second consecutive year, Williams also is proposing legislation requiring greater transparency on the financial backers of Super PACs.

His position on cross-endorsements puts him at odds with the Working Families Party, an ally of organized labor that cross-endorses major-party candidates, almost always Democrats with pro-labor voting records.

The cross-endorsed Democrats appear twice on the ballot, once on the Democratic line and once on the Working Families line.

In 2010, Malloy got 540,970 votes as a Democrat and 26,308 votes as the Working Families candidates. With only his Democratic votes, Malloy trailed Foley by nearly 20,000 votes. With the Working Families tally, he won by 6,404.

Conservatives followed suit last year as the Independent Party cross-endorsed Republicans in the races for U.S. Senate, one congressional seat and many state legislative contests.

“My core issue is to lessen confusion for voters, so that voting is as convenient and as clear as possible,” Williams said.

Miles S. Rapoport, the former Democratic secretary of the state, said that banning cross-endorsements is bad for democracy.

“This is a major step backward,” said Rapoport, now president of Demos, a nonprofit that encourages greater ballot access. “This is an attempt to cut minor parities off at the knees by forcing them into irrelevancy or spoiler mode. I think that would be a shame.”

Rapoport contrasted cross-endorsements with minor parties that act as spoilers by drawing the disaffected away from major parties.

The Working Families Party says it offers voters a chance to cast “a protest vote that counts,” pitching itself as a way for voters turned off by the major parties to still cast a vote for Democrats.

The national and state NAACP also has objected to Williams’ bill.

In a written statement from Andrew Doba, the governor’s spokesman, the Malloy administration neither defended nor opposed the continuation of cross endorsements: “The governor believes that any legislation must strike the right balance between respect for the role of third parties while at the same time making sure that we promote transparency on the ballot.”

Update: On Tuesday, Malloy said he shared the concern of some legislators that the current law can lead to confusion, but he wasn’t ready to embrace or oppose a ban on cross-endorsements.

“It’s a complicated issue,” he said.