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HB 292 by Rep. Hunter Greene unanimously sailed out of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday. It would scrap the modified closed primary system employed to elect Members of Congress, where only those registered as, or if not registered as then if allowed to by a party, a partisan for voting purposes to vote for that party’s nominees for office, and replace it by allowing any elector regardless of party affiliation or lack of it to vote in a primary election where all candidates run together. This was they way it had been done since the mid-1970s.
Greene and his supporters sold it on the bases that it would cause less confusion (because different major parties chose differently on whether to allow no party individuals to participate in their primaries and also because it differed from the blanket primary still being used at the state and local level) and save money (because a closed primary system with an absolute majority requirement for a nomination requires as many as three elections while the blanket system requires at most two). But the drawback would be the late seniority classification of Members of Congress from the state at their initial election if occurring at a regular date.
This is because of a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court decision that holding a blanket primary election where a winner could then be determined prior to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of an even-numbered year for a full term to the next Congress ran contrary to federal law. Since then, until its abolishment before 2008, Louisiana had to hold the primary on that first Tuesday after the first Monday in November and, because of state law mandating a runoff if no candidate received an absolute majority in the first election, what was termed the general election would have to be held after, by state law four weeks later in December.
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It will be interesting to see how the bill fares in the House. Conservative Republicans and black Democrats are the biggest beneficiaries of the new system because the closed primary system allows their supporters typically to be the largest bloc in a closed primary (especially if the party chooses not to let no-party registrants, as does the GOP at present, to participate – this option being an imposition of a 1986 Supreme Court ruling). Together, they comprise a majority in the chamber so it may be wise for Greene to try to convert his bill to a top two version to win some extra votes by those put off with the December election problem.