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Joel Giambra was a long shot to win the Republican nomination for governor. He was a surprise entrant into the race and hadn't spent months traveling the state like the other potential gubernatorial hopefuls.

But whatever chance he had of securing the GOP nod ended when state Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long called him a "nonstarter." Sure, Republicans could endorse Giambra if they wish. But leaders of the Conservative Party, one of New York's influential minor parties, wouldn't give him their line.

We saw another situation play out this week involving a minor party. There were reports that the Working Families Party, which typically endorses Democratic candidates for statewide office, would throw its support behind Cynthia Nixon. Nixon is challenging incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination. 

Labor unions that helped build the Working Families Party pulled out. Cuomo said he wouldn't seek the party's endorsement. If he fends off the challenge from Nixon, Cuomo could become the first Democratic nominee for governor to run without the Working Families Party's support since the minor party line was created in 1998.

(On Saturday, the Working Families Party endorsed Nixon for governor.)

For many New Yorkers, this would appear to be the type of "inside baseball" drama that doesn't interest them. They care about jobs, taxes, education, environmental issues and more. So why should they care about the influence of minor party lines? Because when they go to the polls on Nov. 6, they won't be able to avoid it.

New York is one of a small number of states that allows a practice called fusion voting. This allows political parties — the Conservative and Working Families parties, for example — to cross-endorse major party candidates. The Conservative Party traditionally cross-endorses Republican candidates. The Working Families Party usually cross-endorses Democrats.

There are other examples. The largest minor party in New York is the state Independence Party. There are more than 436,000 active Independence Party voters in the state, according to the latest enrollment figures.

Despite its name, the Independence Party isn't a home for independent candidates. The party usually cross-endorses Republican candidates in congressional and state legislative races. It has cross-endorsed some Democrats, including Cuomo and other candidates for statewide office.

The minor parties don't end there. In 2014, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino formed the Stop Common Core party line — a show of his opposition to the Common Core learning standards. The creation of the Stop Common Core Party came with an added benefit for Astorino: It gave him a third ballot line. (He also ran on the Republican and Conservative lines against Cuomo.)

Astorino wasn't alone. Cuomo, who had a tussle with the Working Families Party in 2014, created the Women's Equality Party line. This gave him a fourth ballot line in addition to the Democratic, Independence and Working Families lines.

The Women's Equality Party line still exists today. The Stop Common Core Party changed its name to the Reform Party. It should come as no surprise that the Women's Equality Party typically endorses Democrats and the Reform Party supports Republican candidates. 

Other minor parties, including the Green and Libertarian parties, operate in New York. But both usually don't cross-endorse major party candidates. The Greens and Libertarians typically nominate their own candidates for statewide office. 

Whether the parties cross-endorse or not, most have one thing in common: automatic ballot access. For a party to receive automatic ballot access in New York, a gubernatorial candidate must receive at least 50,000 votes on its line. That ensures automatic access for the next four years through the next statewide election. 

Cuomo received at least 50,000 votes on each of his three minor party lines, including the newly-created Women's Equality Party, in 2014. Astorino received more than 250,000 votes on the Conservative line — the most votes cast on any minor ballot line — and 51,492 on the Stop Common Core line he created. 

Two gubernatorial candidates. Five minor ballot lines. All either retained or received automatic ballot access following the 2014 election. 

Proponents of fusion voting say it gives voters a choice if they don't want to cast a vote on the Democratic or Republican lines, even if it's for the same candidate. 

Opponents argue that fusion voting encourages corruption. They also question the need for the minor party lines when the candidates they are supporting are already on the ballot. 

There is a good chance most New Yorkers don't know about fusion voting. But there is also a good chance its existence may have influenced their decisions on Election Day.

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