Third political parties don’t do well in the US. What they usually do is take votes away from the major party they’re ideologically closest to. Thus, in the 2020 election, 1.8 million people voted for the Libertarian Party candidate, not the Republican, and 400,000 voted for the Green Party candidate, not the Democrat. In 2016, 4.5 million voted Libertarian and 1.5 million voted Green. Voting for a third party in America is a way to “send a message”, while helping to elect the Democrat or Republican you probably can’t stand. A classic case was Ralph Nader, noted progressive and consumer advocate, getting 97,000 votes in Florida, in an election with a final margin between Bush and Gore of 573 (thanks to the Supreme Court). Bush should have invited Nader to the White House, although Nader wouldn’t have shown up.
But some third parties make sense. They’re called “fusion” parties. A fusion party nominates the major party candidate they like best. All votes cast for the fusion party in the general election go to the Democrat or Republican they’ve nominated. Thus, in New York, where fusion parties are legal, the Working Families Party usually nominates the Democrat and the Conservative Party usually nominates the Republican. It may sound like a dumb idea (why not just vote for the Democratic or Republican nominee?), but it allows the fusion party to run its own campaign and allows fusion party voters to avoid thinking of themselves as Democrats or Republicans.
The most interesting case, however, is when the fusion party nominates a candidate they’d ordinarily oppose. That happens when the other major party candidate is so bad, the fusion party can’t support them. That’s what’s happening in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District this year. Disaffected Republicans have created the Moderate Party and nominated the Democrat (who happens to be relatively moderate). They don’t want to support the Republican, because he’s an empty suit who’s aligned himself with the Make America Great Again crowd. They see the Moderate Party as a political home for Republicans or others who might ordinarily vote for a Republican, but can’t bring themselves to support an extremist.
As of now, however, fusion parties are illegal in New Jersey and most other states. They were popular in the 19th century and legal in New Jersey until 1920. For whatever reason, Democratic and Republican politicians have usually preferred the two-party system that put them in power. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that states have a strong interest in “the stability of the two-party system”, so although a third party could “endorse” a Democrat or a Republican, they could be prohibited from casting ballots for that candidate.
Assuming the state of New Jersey declines to recognize the Moderate Party, its organizers plan to sue. According to the New Jersey Globe:
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.
The Globe article cites two cases in which fusion parties made a difference:
Democrat Daniel Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut in 2010 by 6,500 votes after winning 26,000 votes as the candidate of the Connecticut Working Families Party.
In his 1980 U.S. Senate race in New York, Republican Alphonse D’Amato received 275,000 votes on the Conservative Party line and an additional 152,000 as the Right to Life Party candidate. That enabled him to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman by 81,000 votes.
Now that the Republican Party has lost its collective mind, fusion parties would be a way to elect more Democrats. We’ll see if New Jersey’s Secretary of State and Supreme Court allow it to happen.