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Spreading federal election calendar out desirable option

Many of Louisiana’s registrars of voters made an intriguing suggestion last week, to push the primary election process for federal elections earlier in the calendar. The way it works now, four weeks separate the primary from a potential runoff, and then a month later the general election follows. Given that early voting starts two weeks before the Saturday elections and lasts essentially eight days, and that registrations at least 30 days prior to an election must be checked, the time periods between the elections are packed and put strains on the capacities of registrars.

Louisiana, as it is, for federal elections has the most condensed election cycle in the country. Only a couple of states have primaries later for these offices, and none that has which includes a runoff which most states don’t have has its primary as late as Louisiana’s first Saturday in September. Georgia’s first Tuesday in August is the latest of the four states with runoffs.

Campaigning already begins several months in advance from the actual general election day, so fears about earlier dates creating a longer campaign season should dissipate. Only campaign consultants and the media should abhor a quicker date, as there will be less time for candidates to blow money on ads and other campaign services.

In fact, there could be only one real objection to the change. In Texas, for example, primaries are in March and then almost eight months pass to the general election. With that much time in between, the fancy back then months later may not strike partisans as the optimal candidate to send as the party’s nominee. A more-compressed timeline, necessarily involving a later primary date, is likelier to produce a candidate whose concerns strike a chord closer to voters on the general election day, since those same dynamics will play a stronger role in a later rather than earlier contest.

But this is an extreme example. Adoption of a regime similar to Georgia’s (which actually may have a runoff to a general election), a month earlier, should not substantially separate a primary choice from conditions more trenchant around the general election. A first-week-in- August with a third-week-in-September runoff might serve Louisiana just as well, and certainly would provide for less overtime and likely better performance therefore from the state’s registrars. And it might do a better job of dodging the odd hurricane here and there, which disrupted the 2008 elections, also. Hopefully we’ll see such a bill in the 2009 legislative session.

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