Monday, May 25, 2009

The spectre of the "Mickey Mouse Party" is haunting Louisiana.

The "Mickey Mouse Party" scenario

At last week's meeting of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Jay Dardenne claimed that there may be as many as 20 registered members of the Mickey Mouse Party in the state of Louisiana.

He warned of the threat that the Mouseists could pose if their numbers ever reach 1000, thereby making it possible for them to achieve "recognized" party status and be on par with the Republicans and the Democrats.

Current state law provides for Congressional party primaries for each "recognized" party, if that party fields at least two candidates in the same Congressional race.

Thoughtful readers of this blog can surely imagine the horrifying possibility that the two preceding sentences combine to create. (And, if the thought of a Mickey Mouse Party primary in America doesn't send chills down your spine, then I suggest you buy yourself a one-way ticket to Euro Disney.)

Dardenne and his First Assistant Tom Schedler made it sound like Mickey's legions could be marching on Baton Rouge, if not on Washington, D.C., any day now.

Fortunately for us all, this Disney Scare is overstated.
Contrary to an implication made by Mr. Schedler, the Mickey Mouse Party would not achieve "recognized" status immediately upon gaining their 1000th registrant. Representatives of the party would still have to submit documents (including party bylaws) and a check for $1000 to the Louisiana Secretary of State's office.

Even then, there would only be a Mickey Mouse primary if the Mickey Mouse Party was able to field at least two candidates in the same U.S. House or U.S. Senate race. Even if two willing, 25-year-old or older candidates could be found, those candidates would still have to pay a combined total of $1200 (or each submit petitions containing signatures of at least a thousand voters eligible to vote on the office being sought) to get on the ballot.

When you consider that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats fielded more than one candidate in last year's U.S. Senate race and that the Republicans failed to field any candidate in the 3rd Congressional district and that the Democrats failed to field any candidate in the 5th Congressional district, then I think you can see why any fears and/or hopes you may have of a Mickey Mouse primary are probably unfounded.

If the leaders of the Mickey Mouse Party (whom I would sincerely love to meet) did somehow quinquagetuple their party's current membership, draft bylaws, interact with the necessary bureaucrats, raise $2200, and find multiple party members to run in the same Congressional race, then, I have to say, I think that they would be just as deserving of their own primary as the Democrats and the Republicans are.

(Okay. I've made it this far without pointing out that nearly all of Louisiana's elections have a rather "Mickey Mouse" quality, but I can't let that obvious joke go unwritten any longer. There you go. I'll try to keep the rest of this post mostly serious.)

The Voting Machines

Mr. Dardenne and Mr. Schedler's main argument in favor of abolishing Congressional primaries for Louisiana's three smaller recognized parties seems to be that we should change election law to meet the limitations of the state's (allegedly) now-obsolete voting machines, rather than changing voting machines to accommodate the full range of choices that the legislature previously chose to give to the voters.

My thought on that point is that we should spend the money it takes to give the voters that full range of choices. I understand that, in these days, technological challenges sometimes necessitate frequent upgrading of equipment. I would rather pay the money than limit everyone's choices.

What's the likelihood of this voting-machine problem happening anytime soon?

Although I see some wisdom in being prepared for the unlikely, I also think we should consider just how unlikely the five-party-primaries-with-"lockouts" doomsday scenario that Dardenne and Schedler warn about really is.

The example of last year's Congressional elections in Louisiana, which I briefly mentioned above, is worth considering.

In last fall's races, there were zero party primaries in the U.S. Senate race, one party primary in each of the First, Second, and Fifth Congressional Districts; two party primaries in the Fourth Congressional District; and zero party primaries in the Third, Sixth, and Seventh Congressional Districts. The party primaries which were held were all Democratic or Republican primaries. The parties which HB 776 would penalize did not field more than one candidate in any one Congressional race, thus they did not necessiate any of the primaries held last year in Louisiana.

How would HB 776 affect unaffiliated voters?

When asked about the effect that HB 776 would have on the choices available to unaffiliated voters, Dardenne said that such voters would be unaffected. He pointed out that unaffiliated voters can vote in the Democratic primary (assuming a Democratic primary is held) under current law and that they could still vote in the Democratic primary (assuming a Democratic primary is held) under HB 776. However, he neglected to say that, under current law, unaffiliated voters can choose to vote in the Democratic primary or the Libertarian primary or the Green primary or the Reform primary (assuming that each of those primaries is held), but that under HB 776 the unaffiliated voter's choice is limited to the Democratic primary (assuming that one is held).

Schedler further contributed to this muddling of the law by strongly implying, if not actually claiming, that a Green, Libertarian, or Reform primary would only be open to voters affiliated with that party. He gave the membership numbers for each of these parties and then said that if we assume a 40% turnout, then we could have a statewide election in which very few people voted.

Schedler surely knows, though, that the Republicans are the only ones who have closed their primaries to unaffiliated voters. The Green, Libertarian, Reform, and Democratic parties have all chosen to allow unaffiliated voters to vote in their primaries.

There are over 600,000 unaffiliated voters in Louisiana. Each of them could, potentially, cast ballots in a Green, Libertarian, or Reform primary. There are almost as many potential Green (or Libertarian or Reform) primary voters as there are potential Republican primary voters.

The Disenfranchising Double Standard

This brings me to the double standard that HB 776 would create for voters affiliated with parties other than the Republicans and the Democrats.

Under current law, each voter in Louisiana can potentially have at least one party primary in which he can vote.

Registered Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary, Republicans in the Republican primary, Greens in the Green primary, Libertarians in the Libertarian primary, and Reformers in the Reform primary.

Unaffiliated voters can choose to vote in any of those primaries, other than the Republican primary.

Voters affiliated with some party other than the five recognized parties (e.g., the 20 voters currently affiliated with the "Mickey Mouse Party") have the same primary options as the unaffiliated voters.

Each voter might not actually have an opportunity to vote in a primary, but that would be due to a lack of candidates or to a party's decision to close its primary to non-members. There is no state law which creates a class of voters who could not possibly vote in any potential Congressional primary.

HB 776 would change that.

The proposed change in the law would, for example, abolish the Libertarian Party primary, but would not then allow registered Libertarians to vote in some other primary. It makes sense for state law to exclude Libertarian voters from the Democratic primary, so long as there is a procedure in place by which there could be a Libertarian primary, but it makes no sense to exclude Libertarian voters after the state has also taken away the Libertarians' right to hold their own party primary.

Under HB 776, the 20 voters affiliated with the "Mickey Mouse Party" would actually be better off than the 3,000 affiliated with the Libertarian Party. The "Mickey Mouse Party" members could vote in the Democratic primary, but the Libertarians could not. They would be penalized for belonging to a party that is successful enough to get "recognized" status, but not successful enough to get "major" status.

(If those same voters were left without any primary election options due to a lack of candidates or to a party's decision to close its primary to non-members, I think that would be okay. However, I do not want a state law to create a situation where some voters could not possibly vote in any potential Congressional primary.)


Mr. Schedler said that the three smaller parties could hold private conventions or caucuses to choose their nominees. They could do that, but those nominations would have no effect on which candidates appeared on the general election ballot nor on how those candidates would be labelled. Under HB 776, even if the Green Party privately chose to nominate a particular candidate, there could still be multiple candidates in the general election with the "Green" label under their names.

In contrast, there could be no more than one Democrat and no more than one Republican on the general election ballot.

You can see how unfair that would be if you imagine an election in which the Democrats had multiple candidates on the general election ballot, thereby splitting the Democratic vote, but the Republicans were statutorily protected from that sort of vote-splitting scenario.

Further action on HB 776 was deferred until the committee's next meeting on May 27.

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