Palin Won An "Open Primary"
In a nonpartisan election, popularly called an "open primary" in Mississippi, there are no party primaries. All candidates, including independents, run in the same election, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, proceed to the runoff. This is the way that we now elect our state and county judges and county election commissioners; it's also the way we conduct special elections to fill vacancies in offices, such as the Roger Wicker-Ronnie Musgrove U. S. Senate race.
I don't know whether all of Alaska's cities and towns have nonpartisan elections, but Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla does. At age 32 in 1996, Palin, then a council member, defeated a three-term incumbent mayor.
The great majority of U. S. municipalities, including most of the big cities, use nonpartisan elections ("open primaries") to choose their officials. California, for example, has had nonpartisan municipal AND county elections for nearly 100 years.
Having party primaries in Mississippi's local elections is part of the residue of the old one-party system, in which races were decided in the Democratic primary, with a Democratic runoff if necessary. So long as all candidates ran-- and all voters voted-- in the same election, there was no problem. It was only after the Republicans began fielding candidates that voters were no longer able to choose among all the candidates in the first round of voting. In just about every part of the state at various times, voters have found themselves facing the dilemma of being able to vote for mayor or council member, but not both.
Two cities in which this situation occurred in 2005 were Hattiesburg and Tupelo. Perhaps we should set up a betting pool on which municipalities it will happen in in the spring of 2009.
Why do we need party primaries in local elections anyway?
Click here to see the advantages of having "open primaries" in municipal elections.
Click here to see a plan for greater choice for Mississippi voters in the years that we elect our state and county officials.