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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Brief History of Nonpartisan Elections

In a nonpartisan election, all candidates are listed on a single ballot, and the parties have no way of officially nominating candidates. Most U. S. judicial elections are nonpartisan, as is the big majority of municipal elections. California, e.g., has had nonpartisan municipal and county elections for nearly 100 years.

Efforts to enact nonpartisan elections at the state level have had limited success. California voters rejected such a proposal in 1915 and another in 2004, as did North Dakota voters in 1925. A campaign to get an initiative for nonpartisan state and congressional elections on Oregon's 2006 ballot failed, as did such a measure in the 2007 session of the Beaver State's legislature. The proponents will try again to get an initiative on the November 2008 Oregon ballot.

Washington state's voters, who had a long history of being able to choose among all the candidates in the first round of voting, overwhelmingly passed an initiative for nonpartisan state and congressional elections in November 2004. (This is popularly called the "top two" system, since the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff.) Washington's "top two" has not been implemented, however, as it has been tied up in federal litigation. On October 1, 2007, the U. S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in State v. Republican Party of Washington State. I predict that Washington will wind up with some version of the "top two."

Between 1966 and 1979, the Mississippi legislature enacted measures for nonpartisan state and local elections five different times. The measures were blocked three times under the Voting Rights Act and twice by gubernatorial vetoes. In 1975, Louisiana began using nonpartisan elections for all of its state and local officials and in 1978 for its congressional officials.

Minnesota elected its legislature on a nonpartisan basis, 1913-1973, and Nebraska elects its unicameral legislature that way today. But Louisiana is the only state that has nonpartisan elections for all of its state officials. The Bayou State, which alone has also used that system for its congressional elections, is restoring party primaries for those elections, starting in 2008.

Louisiana’s Republicans are allowing only Republicans to vote in GOP congressional primaries. Louisiana Democrats have not yet said whether they will invite independents to vote in Democratic congressional primaries. (The legislature exercised its prerogative to prohibit the parties from inviting members of opposing parties to vote in their primaries.)

“... the Legislature allowed the political parties to determine whether they would allow independent voters to participate in the closed party primary.”

The legislature had no choice here, since, in 1986, the U. S. Supreme Court gave parties the right to invite independents to vote in their primaries. (Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut)

Mississippi Republicans say that they will keep ALL GOP primaries open to ALL voters-- regardless of the outcome of the Democrats’ lawsuit against the state's primary election law. Mississippi Democrats, in contrast, have indicated that, if their suit is successful, they will invite independents but block Republicans from voting in Democratic primaries.

Louisiana, by the way, has had party registration since 1916.


Blogger N. Hanks said...

Great post, Steve! Linked to The Hankster -- and my comments on NYC nonpartisan elections fight.

Wed Aug 29, 07:05:00 AM CDT  

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