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Free Citizen

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

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Open Primaries" For Local Elections

This article is timely, given that the big majority of Mississippi's municipalities will elect their officials in the spring of 2009.

The voters of Aiken, South Carolina will decide on September 9 whether to eliminate party primaries in municipal elections and replace them with nonpartisan elections (popularly called "open primaries" in Mississippi).

South Carolina evidently leaves it up to each locality as to whether it holds party primaries: "... Aiken is one of only six cities in the state that still hold partisan elections."

In order to conduct a primary in a Mississippi municipality, a party must have a municipal committee there. To cut expenses, some of our smaller municipalities-- Flowood and the small towns in Hinds County, for example-- deliberately skip holding party primaries and just have all candidates run in the general election in June. This, of course, sometimes results in officials getting elected with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Remember what happened in the Rankin County seat of Brandon in 2005? Almost all of the candidates had qualified to run as Republicans, but the paperwork to organize the Republican municipal committee was not submitted in time. So, on the last day for filing, all of those Republicans had to re-qualify as independents. Consequently, the current mayor of Brandon was elected with 47 percent of the vote.

Another problem that sometimes arises in the present system of party primaries is that all or most of the candidates for mayor will run in one party's primary, while all of the candidates for council member in certain wards or districts run in the other party's primary. Thus, residents of those wards or districts are able to vote for mayor or council member, but not both.

The great majority of U. S. municipalities-- including most of the large cities-- already have nonpartisan elections ("open primaries"). California has had nonpartisan municipal AND county elections for nearly 100 years.

If we eliminated party primaries in Mississippi's local elections, (1) citizens would always be able to vote for mayor AND council member, and (2) no local official would ever again be elected with less than 50 percent of the vote.

Click here to see exactly how this system would work.

Here's more on "open primaries" for municipal elections.

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