Sunday, July 21, 2024

Senators pull back on Gov. Landry’s closed party primaries proposal

by BIZ Magazine

Changes wouldn’t take place until 2026

WESLEY MULLERLouisiana Illuminator

Louisiana lawmakers have curtailed Gov. Jeff Landry’s plans to move the state to closed party primary elections.

Based on the amended proposal a state Senate committee advanced Thursday, only congressional and state Supreme Court races would use closed party-only primaries, and the changes would take effect two years later than the governor wants.

Still, the proposed law could effectively eliminate more than 800,000 Louisiana voters from voting in primary elections.

An amended version of House Bill 17, sponsored by Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, cleared the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee in a 5-2 vote along party lines with Republicans prevailing. She is carrying the bill for Landry, who urged lawmakers Monday to end Louisiana’s open primary system.

The original version of her bill proposed to switch the state to closed partisan primaries for all congressional and statewide races, legislative seats, judgeships, boards and commissions.

Since 1975, Louisiana has used an open, nonpartisan “jungle” primary system where all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, run in the same election. Registered voters, regardless of party affiliation, can cast a ballot for any candidate.

Under a jungle primary, a candidate can win outright if they receive more than 50% of the votes. If no one receives more than 50%, the two candidates with the most votes advance to a general election runoff to decide the winner.

Under the proposed closed system, Republican and Democratic candidates would face off in their own partisan primaries. Party leaders would be able to choose whether to allow unaffiliated voters to participate.

Emerson’s bill originally allowed the popular vote winner to advance from a party primary to the general election, even if that candidate failed to earn at least 50% of the vote. Sen. Greg Miller, R-Norco, amended the measure Thursday to require a “second primary” with the top two vote-getters if no one receives more than 50% support.

Miller’s changes also included pushing back the effective date of the law to 2026. The governor had wanted it to go into effect in time for this year’s congressional races.

Significant obstacles remain to Louisiana voters who aren’t registered Democrats or Republicans based on the current version of the proposal.

The Independent, Libertarian and Green parties are officially recognized in Louisiana but would not be able to hold primary elections because they don’t meet the registered voter threshold in the legislation. Currently, only Democrats and Republicans meet that 5% standard.

It would also be extremely difficult for a third-party candidate to run in a general election. Emerson’s bill allows a third-party congressional candidate to run only if they collect 1,000 signatures on a nominating petition, but the signatures have to come from voters who are already registered with that same particular third party, meaning any signatures from Republicans or Democrats — roughly two-thirds of the state — wouldn’t count.

More than 820,000 registered voters in Louisiana — 27% of the total — are neither Republican nor Democrat. About 662,000 aren’t registered with any party, 134,000 are Independents, 16,000 are Libertarians, 2,600 are Green Party members and 6,700 are registered with other minor parties.

Republicans on the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee supported Emerson’s proposal, arguing it still allows unaffiliated voters to vote in a general election. Emerson suggested the switch would encourage greater participation from voters and noted that voters are still allowed to join a party of their choosing.

She also claimed, incorrectly, that most other states have closed party primaries similar to the one she is proposing. In fact, a majority of states have some form of open or partially open primaries that allow voters, regardless of party or affiliation, to participate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only 17 states have closed or partially closed primaries.

Former state Rep. Barry Ivey, a Republican from Central, spoke to the Senate committee, voicing strong opposition to Emerson’s bill. He noted that nearly a third of state legislators elected last year – Democrats and Republicans — faced no opposition from a rival party.

Under a closed partisan primary, many voters would not get to cast ballots at all because many races don’t require a general election, Ivey said. The scenario could play out for congressional and Louisiana Supreme Court races in heavy Democratic and Republican districts, he said.

“It will be the most restricted electoral process in the nation,” Ivey said. “I guarantee it.”

Emerson’s bill goes next to the full Senate and, if approved as is, would return to the House for agreement on Thursday’s amendments.

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