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Free Citizen

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

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mississippi and the "Open Primary"

Bill Minor's column today discussed nonpartisan elections ("open primaries")[1] and Mississippi's past attempts to impose such a system.

"Mississippi's 'open primary' law... was left in a state of 'suspended animation' in January, 1971, by a three-judge federal panel..."

In reality, that was in April 1971. The U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said that it needed more time and did not approve or disapprove the law (under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act). The judges, who included the DOJ's entire letter in their ruling, did not have the authority to order the law's implementation (Evers v. State Board of Election Commissioners, 327 F.Supp. 640).

"[Several times the "open primary" was] rejected [by the DOJ] on grounds it prevented black Democrats from running as independents in general elections."

Mississippi had a number of black independent candidates in the 1960s and 1970s (independents, of course, only run in the general election). Those blacks knew that, if they ran in the Democratic primary, they would not reach the general election, since they couldn't get 50-plus percent in a statewide primary. Also, except for our statewide state offices, 50-plus percent is not needed to win a general election. The "open primary," in contrast, does require 50-plus percent to win.

Minor mentions a woman from DeSoto County in north Mississippi: "... she was a political independent who moved South several years ago from Chicago, 'and I'm tired of not being able to vote in primaries.'"

For state and congressional elections, Illinois has a setup similar to the Magnolia State's, in which each voter picks a party on primary day. In 2003, Chicago began holding nonpartisan elections ("open primaries") for its own city elections, as do some three-fourths of U. S. municipalities.

"... Mississippi three times had enacted open primary laws..."

The "open primary" was enacted four other times, in addition to the 1970 law that was blocked in 1971. It was vetoed by Governor Paul Johnson Jr. in 1966 and by Governor Bill Waller Sr. in 1975; the DOJ refused to preclear it under the Voting Rights Act in 1976 and 1979.

Mississippi could give voters greater choice by eliminating party primaries for local offices.


[1] All candidates, including independents, are listed on a single ballot. If no one gets 50-plus percent, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, meet in a runoff.


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