In the 2006 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature, State Sen. Cleo Fields introduced Senate Bill 18. (To see SB18's full legislative history, including how each legislator voted, go here.)
The bill's basic purpose was to change Louisiana's system for electing U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators to a closed party primary / plurality voting system. This was a change from the nonpartisan blanket primary / runoff system which Louisiana had used since 1978 for all of its elections (except for U.S. presidential nominating contests) and which is still in place for Louisiana elections for state and local offices.
A change in the way Louisianans elected their members of Congress was being considered because, under the electoral system then in use, our state's U.S. House and U.S. Senate members were sometimes not chosen until December runoffs - about a month after members in other states were elected. Critics pointed out that this late start put Louisiana's Congressman at a disadvantage. For example, some of the best committee assignments had already been made before Louisiana's Congressman were even elected.
This problem had not been adequately addressed earlier because it did not exist for most of the time that Louisiana was using the nonpartisan blanket primary / runoff system for its Congressional elections. From 1978 through 1996, Louisiana had held its Congressional primaries in September or October, with a runoff in November when needed. This meant that many elections were actually decided in September or October, so there was no need for a November runoff. In 1997 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Foster v. Love that that schedule violated federal statutes which had been enacted in the 1870's and which set the date for Congressional elections in November. In response, Louisiana began in 1998 holding its Congressional primaries in November and its Congressional runoffs - when needed - in December, thus creating the late-arrival problem.
Against that backdrop, SB18 was passed by the legislature, signed into law by the governor, and became a part of Louisiana's election code. It became effective at the start of 2007, which means that this year's special Congressional elections are the first to use the new system.
How It Will Work
Under the new law, Louisiana's Congressional elections will be conducted in this way:
Each of Louisiana's five recognized political parties (Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Reform, Republican) will hold a first party primary in September, unless fewer than two candidates from that party qualifies to run for that Congressional seat. If only one candidate from a party qualifies to run, then that candidate becomes that party's nominee, without the need for a primary.
Only Republicans may vote in the Republican party primary. In the four other party primaries, voters who are either affiliated with the party holding the primary or not affiliated with any party or affiliated with some party other than the five recognized parties may vote. Only candidates affiliated with the party holding the primary may run in that primary.
If one candidate in the first party primary gets a majority of the votes cast in that primary, then that candidate becomes that party's nominee.
If no candidate gets a majority in a first party primary, then the top two vote-getters in that first party primary proceed to a second party primary, which is held in October. The candidate who gets a majority in the second party primary becomes that party's nominee.
The nominee for each of the five recognized parties proceeds to the general election, which is held in November. Also, any independent candidates and any candidates affiliated with some party other than the five recognized parties will proceed directly to the November general election, without being required to participate in any primaries. (All candidates, however, are required to qualify in the same qualifying period. This is significant since it means that a candidate who loses his or her party's nomination in the primaries cannot then choose to run in the general election as an independent.)
All voters, regardless of party affiliation, vote in the same general election.
The candidate who receives the most votes in the general election is elected, even if that candidate receives less than half of the votes cast in the general election.
Obviously, the months in which the upcoming special Congressional elections in the Sixth and the First Districts will be held differ from the months listed above for regular Congressional elections. The special elections will, however, follow the same basic three-stage process described above, with one possible exception: Under the proclamations issued by Governors Blanco (calling for the First District special election) and Jindal (calling for the Sixth District special election), if all contested party nominations are settled without the need for a second party primary, then the general election will be moved up to the date on which the second party primary would have been held.
In these special elections, the first party primaries are scheduled for March 8, the second party primaries are scheduled for April 5, and the general election is scheduled for May 3.