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Decision protects Louisiana blanket primary system

Louisiana’s election system for state and local elections dodged a bullet when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Washington state’s similar system did not violate political parties’ right of association.

Washington had tried to implement a system that differed from Louisiana’s in two ways, that even if a primary election occurred where candidates regardless of party affiliation all ran together it was not said to “nominate” candidates, and that a general election would be conducted even if one candidate secured an absolute majority of the vote. Last fall during oral arguments, some justices expressed skepticism that any difference between this and a nomination was cosmetic, thereby validating political parties’ arguments that the law infringed upon their ability to control their own nominations.

But the Court ruled, drawing conclusions that might make political scientists wince, that voters were smart enough to understand a nomination as not intended and could readily distinguish between a stated partisan preference and the issue preferences of a candidate. Therefore, if it was the will of the people not to allow parties to make nomination in essence, there was nothing constitutionally wrong with the law and the Court was very reluctant to overturn the popular will on this important matter.

This definitively provides constitutional cover for Louisiana’s nonpartisan blanket primary system. In essence, the court has said that the presence of party labels does not automatically mean a nomination is taking place, a point on which it had been unclear.

Unfortunately, this system muddles political choice because the vast majority of voters do not care to distinguish issue preferences from other aspects about a candidate, often conflating partisanship and ideology. This reduces accountability of elected officials and obscures responsibility in advancing a program. Nevertheless, absent some great groundswell of popular revulsion of it, it looks like it’s here to stay.

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