Meridian Republican Representative Steve Horne has introduced House Bill 305 to abolish party primaries for state and local elections.
Meridian Republican Representative Greg Snowden has introduced House Bill 496 to require party primaries for state and local judicial elections.
Horne’s bill was referred by Speaker of the House Philip Gunn to the Apportionment and Elections Committee. Snowden’s bill was referred by Gunn to the Judiciary A Committee.
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Horne’s bill would put Mississippi elections in a similar posture to Louisiana’s. Instead of party primaries, there would be a preference primary held three weeks before each general election. Candidates could still qualify with their party of choice or as independents, but all candidates would compete in the preference primary. Any candidate getting a majority would be placed on the general election ballot without opposition. When no candidate gets a majority, the top two would run-off in the general election.
Snowden’s bill would remove judicial elections from their current non-partisan status. Parties would hold regular primaries to choose their nominees. Primary winners and (maybe) independents would run in winner-take-all general elections like all other officeholders currently do. (“Maybe” independents because Snowden’s bill as written says “Candidates for judicial office shall be selected through nominations made by the different parties of this state at primary elections.”)
Given the hyper-partisanship dominating Mississippi politics, Horne’s bill probably doesn’t have much chance. So the Speaker likely sent it to the Apportionment and Elections Committee to die, like his similar bill last year. For the same reason, though, he sent Snowden’s bill to the Judiciary A Committee where it might pass. It didn’t. The committee tabled the bill on a voice vote.
While Snowden’s bill might make sense from a hyper-partisan perspective, it’s not as sensible from a fiscally conservative point of view.
You see, elections cost money, lots of money. Right now there’s the first primary, the run-off primary, and the general election. Under Horne’s bill there would be only the preference election and the general election. Over time, eliminating extra elections would save wads of taxpayer dollars. This would be especially good for many small towns and counties.
Fewer elections covering shorter periods of time would also save candidates and their supporters wads of campaign money.
Indeed, a true fiscal conservative would argue that parties, not taxpayers, should pay for their primary elections anyway.
Snowden didn’t address election costs, but told the Clarion-Ledger his bill would raise the profile of judicial elections and level the field. He argued that because they now run only in the general election in November, judicial candidates face a potential runoff around Thanksgiving. “No one wants to come out and vote during the Thanksgiving week,” he said.
A useful compromise might be to apply Horne’s approach to judicial and municipal elections but leave all else the same. It would accomplish Snowden’s goal to make judicial elections partisan but also Horne’s goal to save money on elections.
Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.