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A Look At Special Elections

April 16, 2010
tags: special election
by Brett

There have been a number of Congressional special elections over the past year, as well as a number of special elections for the state legislature here in Mississippi during that time. As you might imagine, different states have different laws regarding how the elections are conducted, who can run, party affiliation, etc.

In Mississippi, all special elections are non-partisan. Whoever qualifies runs with no party label next to their name. If no candidate receives 50 percent plus one, the top two candidates head to a run-off. Under this system, we have seen a couple Republicans run second in very Democratic districts as they are the only Republican with multiple Democrats on the ballot. In those instances, however, the Democratic vote consolidated with the Democrat and the Republican barely picked up any votes in the runoff usually winning the same percentage they did the first time around.

I mention party’s because the party’s can and do help their particular candidate. There is just no letter next to their name on the ballot.

In other states, New York is one example, the party county chairs from that district pick a candidate to run under the party label. This leaves you with a cleaner ballot I suppose- just one D and one R- but also leaves the responsibility with picking the candidate on just a number of unelected party officials. We saw what happened in NY-23 when the GOP put a liberal Republican on the ballot. Simply put chaos ensued, and the Democrats picked up a traditionally Republican seat in that instance.

At least one state, Hawaii (which will be having a special election very soon), has another special election style. Everybody who qualifies runs under the party label they qualified with. A plurality is all that is needed to win. Therefore, as you have the potential for in the upcoming special election, candidates from one party can split the vote and someone who would not win in a head-to-head matchup can carry the day. In the upcoming special election, two Democrats and one Republican are running in the very Democratic district. Polls show them each getting around 30 percent.

I would argue that my ideal special election system would look something like the ‘Cajun primary.’ Let everybody who wants to run, run- without the interference from party leaders. The ballots should have party label on them. And if no one wins 50 percent plus one, there is a run-off a couple weeks later.

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