Monday, May 4, 2009

HB 776

Louisiana State Rep. Wayne Waddell (email him), has introduced a bill which would abolish Congressional party primaries for the Libertarian, Green, and Reform parties of Louisiana. It would do this by creating a new category ("major recognized political parties") which would include those recognized parties that have at least 40,000 voters registered as being affiliated with the party. Congressional party primaries would only be held for major recognized political parties.

Currently, only the Republican and Democratic parties meet the 40,000 registrants requirement.

The Green, Libertarian, and Reform parties of Louisiana all have substantially less than 40,000 registrants.

Those three political parties (which, presumably, would be called "minor recognized political parties") could suffer great disadvantages as a result of this demotion.

First, it would prohibit those political parties, and candidates from those parties, from fully participating in Louisiana's Congressional elections. For example, in the absence of a Libertarian primary, Libertarian candidates would be deprived of the various advantages (e.g., media attention, ballot exposure to the voters) that the Republican and the Democratic candidates would gain from the party primary process. Also, by requiring that all Libertarian candidates for a particular Congressional office run against each other in the general election (rather than thinning their numbers down to one nominee, as the Republicans and Democrats could, in the primaries), a grossly unfair disadvantage would be created for the Libertarian Party and its Congressional candidates.

Second, there would be a partial disenfranchisement of voters who are affiliated with the Green, Libertarian, or Reform parties. Those voters would be unable to vote in any of the party primaries, even if there were a plethora of Green, Libertarian, and Reform candidates in a particular Congressional race. Republican voters and Democratic voters could cast ballots in their respective primaries and voters who are not affiliated with any of the recognized parties could cast ballots in the Democratic primary (or the Republican primary, if the Republicans open their primaries to such voters), but voters who are affiliated with one of the minor recognized parties would be shut out until the general election.

Since being registered as a member of one of the minor recognized parties would effectively bar a voter from casting a ballot in the early stages of Congressional elections, it could be very difficult for those parties to hold onto the registrants they have. With this disenfranchising handicap, it would be practically impossible for those parties to add the registrants they would need to achieve major recognized party status.

Further, since Louisiana's Congressional elections would still, under HB776, require the winner to receive only a plurality of the votes cast in the general election, the proposed change could lower the percentage of the vote necessary to be elected. In four of Louisiana's Congressional elections held in 2008, the winner was elected with less than half of the votes cast. This means that an absolute majority of those casting ballots voted against the candidate who was elected. A crowded general election ballot, which would be more likely under the proposed change, would increase the likelihood of a U.S. Representative or U.S. Senator being elected with significantly less than half of the votes cast.

Requiring a political party to show a modicum of support before that party is granted full ballot access may be justified by the state's interest in avoiding ballot-crowding and voter confusion. However, as stated earlier, under HB776 Louisiana's Congressional general election ballots could actually be more crowded. Also, the presence of multiple "Green," multiple "Libertarian," and multiple "Reform" candidates on the ballot (as opposed to the single "Republican" candidate and the single "Democrat" candidate) could increase voter confusion.

Last Friday evening, I sent Rep. Waddell an email expressing my concerns about his bill. I have not gotten a reply. I will update this post if I get one.

I also asked him why he thought the bill was necessary. There has only been one round of regular Congressional elections since Louisiana adopted the party primary system for its Congressional elections. So far, there have not been any Green, Libertarian, or Reform primaries in Louisiana, since no more than one candidate from any one of those parties has qualified to run in the same Congressional race. (There has also been no statewide Democratic or Republican party primary held under the new system. In Louisiana's 2008 U.S. Senate race, only one Democratic candidate qualified for the primary. Two Republicans qualified for the Senate race, but one of them withdrew a few days later.)

HB776 has been referred to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. Email addresses for each member of that committee can be found by clicking on their names at the committee's webpage. Mailing addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers for each committee member can be found in this directory.

1 comment:

Adrien Monteleone said...

Thanks for keeping tabs on the legislature!

It seems a bit premature to say the least for any change to a law that has yet to be implemented in actual practice. While I can see the possible cost savings, (which can't be quantified until we actually HAVE a party primary) the resultant voter confusion and lack of media attention will severely hamper our efforts. For now, LP primaries are open to independents and minor party registrants. (non recognized) The LP has garnered more than 40k votes in races even though our registration is much smaller. This would severely limit the choices and participation by independents. (who out number Republicans by about 50%) I encourage ALL indpendents, LP, Green, Reform and non-recognized party voters to contact their legislators on this bill.