Is Louisiana’s “Open Primary” A French Idea?

<em>A commenter at</em> <a href=””>Ballot Access News</a> <em>named “Deemer from California” strongly implied that Louisiana adopted its “open primary” system as a result of the state’s French heritage.  Here is my response to him:</em>

Louisiana’s adoption of its “top two” (popularly called the “open primary”)[1] had nothing to do with its French background. Louisiana’s “open primary” is an extension of the old one-party (truly NO-PARTY) system, in which elections were decided in the Democratic primary, with a Democratic runoff if necessary.

When Southern Republicans began running a few candidates in the 1960s, they almost never had primary opposition, so they only had to run in the general election– whereas a Democrat had the aggravation and expense of both a primary and a runoff primary campaign prior to the general election. The Democrats naturally resented the fact that the Republican only had to campaign in the fall, and the Democrats wanted to force the Republican to run in the same election with the Democrats– hence, the push for the “open primary” (apparently, the “open primary” proponents assumed that there would never be more than one Republican running for the same office).

Between 1966 and 1979, the Mississippi legislature enacted the “top two” (aka “open primary”) five different times, but its implementation was blocked each time– thank God.

Meanwhile, Louisiana began using the “open primary” for its state and local elections in 1975; it also used it for its congressional elections from 1978 through 2006.

The “top two”/”open primary” is certainly not a new idea. California voters rejected it for state offices in 1915 and for state AND congressional offices in November 2004. North Dakota voters rejected it in the early 1920s, while Oregon voters last week defeated a similar proposal for their congressional, state, and local elections.

<a href=””>Click here</a> for a post that includes Louisiana’s and Mississippi’s history with the “open primary.”


[1]  All candidates, including independents, are listed on a single ballot, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, progress to the runoff.

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