The Case for the Louisiana System

Fox News recently had a political story noting that in several close Senate races in red states, Libertarian candidates might keep the Republican nominee from winning seats held by Democrats today.  In the last three election cycles, liberal Democrats in Senate races have won races with less than half the vote, and with the majority of the vote going to the Republican nominee and candidates more conservative than that nominee.

In 2008, Mark Begich won in Alaska with 47.8% of the vote, while Republican Ted Stevens earned 46.6% and Bob Bird of the Alaska Independence Party, endorsed by Ron Paul, won 4.2%.  Al Franken in Minnesota won 41.99% of the vote, while Republican Norm Coleman won 41.98% and Dean Barkley, a Perot and Ventura supporter, got 15.1% of the vote.  Jeff Merkely in Oregon got 48.9% of the vote, while Gordon Smith received 45.6% and Constitution Party candidate Dave Brownlow won 5.2% of the vote.  In 2012, the same pattern emerged. 

How much have leftist Democrats prospered by the division of conservative votes?  Consider that Democrat Jon Test in Montana in 2006 got 49.2% of the vote, while Republican Conrad Burns got 48.3% of the vote and Libertarian Stan Jones got 2.6%, and then in 2012, Democrat Jon Tester won 48.6% of the vote, while Republican Denny Rehberg got 44.9% while Libertarian Dan Cox received 6.1%.  Tester won his seat and then six years later defended it because his opposition was split.

It would be one thing if leftist Democrats lost as many elections as they won because third-party candidates cost them votes, but in the last four Senate election cycles, leftist Democrats have won five Senate elections – two for the same seat in Montana – without ever losing a seat because of a third party candidate from the left. 

The left understands this and is actually helping fund some of these candidates.  In 2012, for example, leftist Democrats contributed money to the Dan Cox campaign.  The left also funded the Libertarian candidate in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial candidate.  In both cases, this strategy worked:  leftist Democrats won races that they otherwise would have lost because of Libertarian candidates.  This election cycle, Libertarian Senate candidates in Alaska, North Carolina, and Montana may allow the leftist Democrat to win.  As always, no candidate to the left of the Democrat Senate candidate is on the ballot.

State governments determine what is required to win elections.  When a mere plurality is required, then leftist Democrats win seats that they otherwise would have lost.  When a majority of the vote is required, as is true in Louisiana, then the only way that the leftist Democrat can win is if voters in the state actually prefer that candidate to win.  States controlled by Republicans ought to adopt this sort of electoral system as a way of preventing the left from winning elections that the majority of voters really do not want it to win.

Under this system, there would be an open primary – that could be held on the November general election day or before that date – and a few weeks later, if no candidate received a majority, there would be a runoff between the top two candidates.  In red states it is unlikely that any leftist Senate candidate could win an election.

Would this, however, be pandering to the Republican establishment?

No, it would not.  The open primary would include all candidates – all Democrats, all Republicans, and all other candidates who seek the seat – and so what this system would do is actually undermine the power of the two major political parties by forcing everyone to battle among the entire electorate for votes.  Nonpartisan candidates who run compelling campaigns might poll among the top two, and one major political party, or even both, might find itself unrepresented in the runoff election.

The Louisiana system, in fact, is the perfect vehicle for true Libertarians, who could actually elect senators in states strongly leaning toward Libertarian principles.  Conservative voters who actually favor Libertarian ideas but are afraid that a vote for the Libertarian candidate is wasted could wholeheartedly support the Libertarian candidate in the first election, knowing that the Democrat would have to face either the Republican or Libertarian candidate in the runoff. 

Who would oppose this change in state electoral laws?  Only those on the left who privately support candidates competing for Republican votes but never for Democrat votes in plurality elections.