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Argersinger: A place on the ballot

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Argersinger. 1980. A place on the ballot: Fusion politics and antifusion laws. American Historical Review 85:287-306.

In Brief

Adoption of the Australian ballot (defined below) and related reforms in the late 1800s were not innocent institutional reforms: Republican state legislators adopted these anti-fusion laws with the explicit goal of preventing (minority) Democrats from fusing with smaller third parties. The (intended) result was the destruction of independent third parties.


When multiple parties nominate a single candidate.
Australian ballot
For a period, each party could print their own ballot. This made fusion easy. Populists might not even know that some of the candidates on their Populist-printed ballot were actually Democrats (and vice versa). The Australian ballot is different--it is a state-printed ballot that lists all the candidates (with their party ID) for all the offices (organized either by office or by party). Rather than take the party ticket to the polling place and publicly dropping it into the ballot box, voters using the Australian ballot would receive a state-printed ballot at the polling place and fill it out in secret.

Anti-fusion laws

In the late 18th century, Republicans passed a number of laws with a goal of making fusion difficult. The Australian ballot was one such anti-fusion law. Two other examples:

  1. Listing candidates by party (not office) and forbidding the same candidate's name to be listed more than once. Thus, if Democrats and Populists wanted to support the same candidate, and that candidate was listed on the ballot as a Populist, Democratic voters would have to actually look in the Populist column to find the fusion candidate--there wouldn't be a candidate listed for that office in the Democratic column.
  2. Putting a check box at the top of the column that votes for all that party's candidates. This creates problems if you've also made reform #1 (above).

Data and Findings

Argersinger presents a qualitative analysis with many interesting historical anecdoates to show that in the late 1800s--especially during the 1892 presidential campaign--these anti-fusion laws and the Austrialian ballot were adopted in an explicit attempt to keep the Democrats weak by undermining their attempts at fusion with smaller parties (notably the Populists). Eventually, the anti-fusion laws made things so difficult for third parties that smaller parties all but disappeared, with members formally joining the large parties.

Research on similar subjects


Argersinger, Peter (author)American PoliticsState Politics (U.S.)Primary ElectionsElectionsElectoral Rules

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