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Free Citizen

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

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The State's and the Parties' Roles in Nominations

When Louisiana’s major parties have used presidential primaries, they have always been closed primaries. As I understand it, those primaries are "beauty contests," and the presidential delegates are chosen in separate party caucuses.

Louisiana is restoring party primaries this year for its congressional elections. The Democrats are inviting independents to vote in their primaries, while the Republicans are not. The party primaries for the special election to fill the U. S. House seat vacated by now-Gov. Bobby Jindal will be held on Saturday, March 8.

In 1995, the 8th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that when a state requires parties to nominate by primary, the state must pay the costs of those primaries (Republican Party v. Faulkner County). It’s my understanding that the state of Virginia has always paid the costs of primaries, despite the fact that the parties there have other nominating options. (The 4th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently said that Virginia’s Republicans may close their primaries when they are forced to nominate by primary [Miller v. Cunningham]. It remains to be seen whether this ruling will be appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.)

A commenter at Ballot Access News suggested this: “ABOLISH caucuses, primaries and conventions — to STOP having endless campaign machinations.”

The state has the power to require parties to nominate candidates and to limit the general election ballot to one candidate per party. If the state does so, it must then specify the nominating method(s). If the parties were left to their own devices, they would be very unlikely to hold primaries, due to the expense. The voters would then raise hell, since in most states, they are accustomed to primaries. Thus, the states will continue to require and pay for primaries.

That same commenter also suggested “DIRECT general election nominations by nominating petitions…”

That’s what Louisiana does in all of its state and local elections– despite the first round commonly being called a “primary.” The candidates may qualify either by petition OR by paying a fee.

That’s also what the voters of Washington state have approved– abolishing party primaries for offices other than president– and we should be hearing from the U. S. Supreme Court on the Washington “top two” system* any time now (State v. Republican Party of Washington State). If the "top two"* is implemented there, the state's Democrats and Republicans have indicated that they will hold caucuses and conventions to endorse candidates.

In addition, there is an effort underway to put an initiative on Oregon's November 2008 ballot to eliminate party primaries for offices other than president and to have all candidates run in the same election.


* All candidates, including independents, are listed on the same ballot. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff.


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