A new political party aimed at attracting moderate voters will test New Jersey’s law banning fusion voting by filing nominating petitions today to create the Moderate Party with two-term Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) as their candidate in New Jersey’s 7th district.
The move would allow Malinowski’s name to appear twice on the general election ballot, giving moderate Republicans – the kind who used to vote for candidates like Christine Todd Whitman and Thomas H. Kean, Sr. – the chance to vote for him without having to do so in the Democratic column.
One of the organizers of the Moderate Party is Republican Richard A. Wolfe, a township committeeman in East Amwell and a former three-term mayor. Wolfe had contributed $4,500 to Tom Kean, Jr. for his 2020 run to unseat Malinowski.
“I felt compelled to help form the Moderate Party because I believe the majority of voters in this country are neither far right nor far left, but instead support positions that are at or close to the center — in other words, moderate positions,” Wolfe said. “These centrist voters feel that their party of choice, whether the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, no longer shares their views.”
Fusion voting – the ability for a candidate to run on multiple party lines and combine their vote totals – was legal in New Jersey until around 1920 when Democratic and Republican party leaders sought to limit the influence of independent candidates. It’s still legal in eight US states, including New York.
Malinowski has signed the certificate of acceptance as the candidate of the Moderate Party. That petition is almost certain to be rejected, something that will trigger a court fight to challenge the constitutionality of the law that ended fusion voting.
While no challenge can be filed until Secretary of State Tahesha Way formally rejects the petitions, it’s still not clear if the New Jersey judiciary can adjudicate this matter before military and overseas general election ballots are required to be mailed on September 24.
The filing deadline for independent candidates is 4 PM today.
The front runner for the Republican nomination is Kean, Jr., who came within one percentage point of winning two years ago and is running in a newly-drawn district that is more favorable to Republicans. Malinowski appears ready to play to moderate Republicans who don’t like Donald Trump and think Kean, Jr. is more conservative than his father was.
The Moderate Party is expected to argue that fusion voting protects voter rights, free speech and equal protection for candidates and voters. Organizers say their group will include Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.
Michelle Garay, a former Republican mayor of Alexandria who endorsed Malinowski when he ran against Rep. Leonard Lance in 2018, is the state chair of the new Moderate Party.
“Like many voters in New Jersey and across the nation, I’ve grown disgusted by the political discourse in our country and have switched my registration to independent,” Garay said. “This new Moderate Party will give a voice to voters like me and act as a stabilizing influence on a political system under threat.”
Founders of the new party expect that they will endorse more candidates in future election cycles as they seek a home for Republicans who no longer feel comfortable as members of the current party but are unwilling to switch to the Democrats, who they say are still too progressive for their tastes.
“I’ve been a Republican all my life,” said Wolfe. “I’ve become increasingly concerned that far right extremists within the Republican Party are high jacking the party to isolate the United States from the rest of the world, deny the results of elections, close our borders, support insurrectionists, downplay or ignore science on important health and environmental issues, and block sensible gun control laws — supported by the vast majority of Americans — to protect our children.”
Wolfe called the new party “an important first step toward encouraging our candidates and elected officials from both major parties to stop pandering to the extremists in their parties and instead work together to achieve results that are in the best interests of their constituents.”
“We’re excited to endorse Congressman Malinowski, but we’re even more excited to serve as an example of the type of politics that the voters in New Jersey want, with a focus on building bridges across ideological divides to improve the lives of the residents of New Jersey,” stated Wolfe.
Kean’s top strategist, Harrison Neely, said that Malinowski “is doing everything he can to run away from the Democrat party and all the Biden votes he rubber stamped.”
“Once again, not even the law can get between Trader Tom and his political ambitions,” Neely said.
Fusion voting has affected the final results in several contests over the years. Democrat Danel Malloy won elected governor of Connecticut in 2010 by 6,505 votes after winning 26,308 votes as the candidate of the Connecticut Working Families Party.
In his 1980 US Senate race in New York, Republican Alphonse D’Amato received 275,100 votes on the Conservative Party line and an additional 152,470 as the Right to Life Party candidate. That enabled him to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman by 80,991 votes, a one-point plurality, statewide. (In that race, incumbent Jacob Javits, who lost the GOP primary to D’Amato, remained on the ballot as the Liberal Party nominee and won 664,544 votes, spoiling Holtzman’s chance to win.)
Over 100 candidates in New Jersey have run with the support of more than one political party before the practice was banned about a century ago. Among them was Republican Mahlon Pitney (R-Morristown), who won re-election to a Morris County-based congressional seat in 1896 by 2,977 votes against Augustus Cutler (D-Morristown), who had been a two-term congressman in the 1870s . Pitney was also on the ballot as the candidate of the “Sound Money Democrats.”
In 1912, President William Howard Taft nominated Pitney to serve as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court.
This story was updated at 4:51 PM with comment from Neely.