Home » Louisiana once again changes its unique election system, but only for certain races

Louisiana once again changes its unique election system, but only for certain races

Louisiana’s Republican-dominated Louisiana legislature on Friday passed a bill that would replace the state’s unusual all-party primary system with traditional party primaries, though not to the extent that GOP Gov. Jeff Landry wanted. Landry, though, still indicated that he would sign off on the changes.

Races for Congress, the state Supreme Court, the Public Service Commission, and the statewide education board would now be conducted using party primaries starting in 2026, which is how voters in almost every state select candidates. Contenders would be required to win a majority of the vote to avoid a primary runoff, which is the practice in many other Southern states, including the three that border Louisiana. And voters who are not affiliated with any party would get to choose which primary they want to participate in.

The new system would be a departure from the electoral rules that the late Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards put in place in the 1970s. Currently, candidates for most offices other than president all run together on a single ballot; if no one wins a majority of the vote, then the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to a runoff.

Landry, though, wanted even more extensive changes, and for them to take effect sooner. The original version of the bill, which was introduced at the start of the week, mandated that party primaries would be required for Congress this very year. The initial plan that Landry backed also required partisan primaries for statewide races (including the governorship) and for the legislature beginning in 2025. These offices, though, will be exempt from the new rules.

Those weren’t the only alterations lawmakers made before the bill advanced to Landry’s desk. The legislation originally did away with runoffs and allowed candidates to secure their party’s nomination with a simple plurality. It also said that the only way unaffiliated voters could take part in primaries would be at the discretion of party leaders.

However, many of Landry’s fellow Republicans weren’t happy with his opening pitch. Secretary of State Nancy Landry (no relation to the governor) predicted that it could be “a disaster” if her office had to implement partisan primaries for Congress this year.

Republican legislators, who won using the current system, may have also been wary of altering the rules for their own races. Indeed, such a shift could have made it easier for the governor to pressure disobedient Republicans, who no longer would be able to rally Democratic voters to their defense.

However, this isn’t the first time in recent memory that Louisiana has switched to party primaries for some, but not all, of its elections. In 2006, the legislature also voted to select candidates for Congress via traditional primaries, starting the following cycle. Supporters of the change were unhappy that, because a December runoff was often needed, the only committee assignments and offices left for newly elected members would be the least desirable ones.

But things weren’t always this way. Louisiana used to hold its all-party primaries for Congress in August, with a general election taking place in November only if needed. The U.S. Supreme Court, though, ruled in 1997 that no one could be elected to the new Congress before the fall Election Day set in the Constitution. (California and Washington, whose top-two primary systems are otherwise almost identical to Louisiana’s all-party primary, avoid this issue by requiring a second round of voting in November even for races where a candidate wins a majority in the first round.)

However, while the party primary system was used for congressional races in 2008 and 2010 (Landry himself was elected to his one term in the House during the latter year), Louisiana soon reverted to its old ways. Republican Secretary of State Jay Dardenne complained that it “creates tremendous confusion” to have one system for some elections while maintaining the all-party primary for almost every other contest. Other critics also griped that the state was unnecessarily spending money by hosting as many as three rounds of voting for congressional contests.

The legislature voted to once again use the all-party primary for Congress starting in 2012, though that hardly settled the matter. Landry, who has railed against the all-party method for years, told legislators Monday that it was time to end this “relic of the past which has left us dead last.” But while he got much of what he wanted, that “relic” isn’t buried quite as deeply as Landry hoped it would be.

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January 2024