Greater Choice For Mississippi Voters
Nonpartisan elections are popularly called "open primaries" in Mississippi. In such an election, there are no party primaries, and all candidates, including independents, run in the same election. If no one gets 50-plus percent in the first round, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, meet in a runoff.
The Voter Choice Plan would provide greater choice for our state's voters by changing to nonpartisan local (county and municipal) elections. It's unlikely that the legislature would enact this plan, but it could also be accomplished through a ballot initiative. Mississippi has a tough initiative process; however, if we could get such an initiative on the ballot, I believe that our citizens would pass it overwhelmingly.
Most of our municipal officials are elected in the spring of the year following presidential elections; our state and county officials are elected in the year before presidential elections.
Let’s say that the Voter Choice Plan is in effect for our 2011 state and county elections. Here’s how those elections would work:
First Tuesday in August: the parties would hold their primaries for state offices, and each voter would choose either the Democratic or the Republican ballot.
August, three weeks later: the parties would hold their runoff (or second) primaries for state offices. ALL the candidates for COUNTY offices would also be listed on both the Republican and the Democratic ballots. In addition, there would be a separate nonpartisan ballot listing only the candidates for COUNTY offices.
Anyone who had voted in either the Democratic primary or the Republican primary would have to stick with the same party in the second primary-- OR such a voter would have the option of taking the nonpartisan ballot. Anyone who had not voted in a party primary would have their choice of the Democratic ballot, the Republican ballot, OR the nonpartisan ballot.
First Tuesday in November: ALL voters, to be sure, receive the same ballot in the general election. For each state office, each party’s nominee would be listed, along with any independent candidates. For each county office for which a runoff was necessary, the top two vote-getters from August would be listed.
The Voter Choice Plan would increase the turnout for the party runoff (or second) primaries for state offices, since ALL the candidates for county offices would also be on the ballots at that time. There would never be more than two rounds of voting for any county office, and no county official would ever again be elected with less than 50 percent of the vote.
This plan would also eliminate two situations that have recurred in Mississippi over the years, and which have limited voters' choices. The first transpires when all or most of the candidates for county offices run in one party's primary. If a voter votes in the other party's primary, he misses out on choosing his county officials. In 2007, for example, all of the candidates for county offices in Hinds County ran in the Democratic primary. And in Rankin County, almost all of the candidates for county offices ran in the Republican primary.
The other situation involves our municipal elections: All or most of the candidates for mayor run in one party's primary, while all of the candidates for council member run in the other party's primary. Thus residents of those wards or districts can vote for mayor OR council member, but not both (in 2005, Hattiesburg and Tupelo were two cities in which this happened).
Why do we need party primaries for local offices anyway?