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Free Citizen

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

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An "Open Primary" For California?

In June 2010, California voters will have a ballot question for a nonpartisan, Louisiana-style "top two" election system [1] (popularly called the "open primary" in Mississippi). Richard Winger, a Californian, has already had a number of "top two" posts at Ballot Access News, which have generated some lively commentary. Below are some of my remarks on the latest such post.

“… 1971, the last year Louisiana used a closed primary for state legislative races…”

In 1971, the Republicans were still only running a few candidates; I doubt that there were more than a handful of Republican candidates for the legislature– if that many. Louisiana was still largely a one-party state.

The one-party system was a de facto “top two” system, except that a voter had to register as a Democrat to participate in Louisiana's one-party system (of the 11 former Confederate states, only Louisiana, Florida, and North Carolina register voters by party).

A Democratic runoff was generally necessary, so when the Republicans started running a few candidates, the winner of the Democratic primary faced a third campaign; his Republican opponent, in contrast, usually just had to campaign in the general election. This was the big reason that Democratic politicians in Louisiana and Mississippi wanted to implement the “top two” (a. k. a. “open primary”).

Many voters also liked the concept of the “open primary,” since they were accustomed to (1) choosing among ALL the candidates in the first round, and (2) having elections decided with no more than two rounds of voting.

Hence Louisiana’s “open primary” is a remnant of the old one-party (truly no-party) system.


[1] All candidates, including independents, run in the same election. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, advance to the runoff. Louisiana has used this system since 1975 to elect its state and local officials, whereas Washington state began using it in 2008 to elect its state and congressional officials. The California proposal applies to state and congressional elections.


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