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The New Party is a grassroots progressive political organization that focuses on local elections and uses the concept of multiple-party nomination or "fusion" to build coalitions with other like-minded organizations and political parties. Despite a major setback from a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision which held that states are not required to permit fusion, the New Party, which uses the slogan "Building a New Majority from the Ground Up," won 300 of the first 400 races it entered between 1992 and 2002.
Fed up with what they saw as only minor distinctions between the Democratic and Republican parties as well as a lack of commitment by the majority parties to the concepts of democracy and corporate accountability, a group of Trade Union members, low-income community activists, environmentalists, minority voters, and other supporters started the New Party in New York in 1992. Fueled by a vision based on recognition of the moral equality of each person, the New Party sought to build a multi-ethnic party of activists dedicated to taking back the reins of democracy from an increasingly powerful alliance of corporations and corporate media that has come to dominate the U.S. political system.The organization has established a series of "New Party Principles" that include full public financing of elections and universal voter registration; establishment of the right to democratic self-organization for workers, consumers and others; a children's Bill of Rights; community control and equitable funding for schools; a safe and secure community environment; a prohibition of discrimination based on race, gender, age, country of origin, and sexual orientation; and the safeguarding of civil liberties, reproductive rights, and the right to privacy.
Economic principles include a progressive tax system, creation of a sustainable economy that includes protection of the environment, full employment and a guaranteed minimum income for all adults, a reduction in defense spending, and progressive international trade practices.
The organization started in 1992 with a strategy of selecting local contests and building alliances with other small progressive parties. In the view of New Party organizers, the current winner-take-all system for political elections has stifled debate that would otherwise include minor party candidates. This system has also restrained the development of alternative political parties because many voters are afraid to "waste" their vote on a candidate who has little or no chance of winning.
The New Party espouses the concept of fusion in order to grow its political base. In politics fusion means the practice of permitting political parties to allow the name of another party's candidate to be placed on the ballot line. In fusion races the votes a candidate receives on all ballot lines are totaled and the candidate with the most votes would be declared the winner.
Fusion was popular in the 1800s, the best-known example being when presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan was nominated by both the Democrats and the Populist "Peopzle's Party" in 1896. The increasing popularity of fusion came to be viewed as a threat by the major parties, and many state legislatures began to pass statutes that prohibited it. Between 1896 and 1907 fusion was banned in 18 states. In 2001 fusion was legal in eight states: Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Vermont.
In 1994 the Twin Cities chapter of the New Party gave its nomination to Andy Dawkins, a Democratic incumbent legislator who was running for reelection. Dawkins agreed to the fusion nomination and there was no objection from the state Democratic Party. However, the state of Minnesota objected and the New Party sued. The district court dismissed the case, but it was reversed on appeal by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the state ban on fusion imposed a severe burden on the New Party's freedom of association by not allowing it to nominate the candidate it had selected. The Eighth Circuit's decision was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 117 S.Ct. 1364, 137 L.Ed.2d 589 (1997), which held, in a 6–3 vote, that the First Amendment does not require states to permit fusion voting.
This decision was disappointing to the New Party and other minor parties who had hoped to use fusion throughout the country to leverage the voting power of their supporters. Members of the New Party vowed to move forward with their agenda of running candidates for local level elections including school boards and city councils, mayoral races, and state assemblies. The organization is also pursuing a long-term strategy for changing state election laws to permit fusion voting.
New Party Website. Available online at <www.newparty.org> (accessed July 30, 2003).