How to Prevent a Roy Moore-Doug Jones SNAFU

What should conservatives conclude from the recent special election that sent Doug Jones, a Democrat in all things, to the U.S. Senate to represent Alabama, one of the reddest of red states?

One takeaway should be that Alabamians haven't been very well served by their past legislatures, as Alabama's election laws were insufficient to handle this situation.  Vann R. Newkirk II reported on this in "How Alabama's Election Laws Keep Moore on the Ballot" on Nov. 15 at the Atlantic: "[a] complicated labyrinth of Alabamian election laws makes it difficult to force Moore out or replace him with another Republican candidate."

I'm no expert on Alabamian election laws, but I think the relevant language is to be found in Title 17, Chapter 6, Article 2, Section 17-6-21(b), where we read (italics added):

Any amendment filed after the 76th day before a primary or a general election shall be accepted by the judge of probate or the Secretary of State but shall not be cause for reprinting of the ballots. The name of a candidate who is the subject of the amendment and who is disqualified by a political party or who has withdrawn as a candidate shall remain on the ballot, not be replaced by the name of another candidate, and the appropriate canvassing board shall not certify any votes for the candidate.

What that means is that there's no way to "correct" the results of a primary when late-in-the-game accusations come to light.  And if a candidate dies, becomes incapacitated, or goes to prison in the final 75 days before an election, sorry, but we accept no substitutions.

The Roy Moore-Doug Jones mess wouldn't have arisen if we still selected U.S. senators by state legislatures, the way the Constitution originally stipulated.  Going back to that would require repealing the 17th Amendment, a heavy undertaking (but maybe someday...).  In the meantime, how can a political party protect itself from the likes of Roy Moore, and how can a state protect itself from being represented by someone like Doug Jones who is out of step with its values?

The 17th Amendment doesn't say anything about how candidates are chosen; it doesn't stipulate that in "the several States," candidates must be "elected by the people thereof" – that is, in a primary election.  It's the primary system that gave Alabamians a GOP candidate who appeared unacceptable and unfit for office.  Rather than by a primary election, the states should use the caucus to select their candidates for the U.S. Senate.  And the caucus members should be chosen solely by a state's party apparatus, such as Alabama's GOP committees.

The caucus system has advantages over the primary system.  For example, party caucuses wouldn't cost a state any money.  Voter participation in primaries is low to begin with, and that may be especially true for special election primaries.  But the main reason to supplant primaries for U.S. Senate with party caucuses is that the primary system allows problem candidates like Moore to run.  Party insiders are in a much better position to decide against such candidates than the voter.

A caucus of GOP committee members would probably have chosen a more electable candidate than Roy Moore.  But if the Alabama Republican Party had tried to take Moore off the ballot, primary voters might well have been outraged.  To avoid such outrage, don't have a primary; have a caucus instead.  And a caucus could accept input from the state legislature, which would get us a little closer to the original Constitution.

Roy Moore doesn't seem to have ever been particularly popular in Alabama, and he never received all that many votes in his various runs for office.  Maybe he's more trouble than he's worth; maybe his deficits outweigh his assets.  But over the last decade, primary voters in Missouri, Nevada, Delaware, and Indiana have been selecting U.S. Senate candidates who fail in general elections that any decent Republican should have won.  And it's all because of the primary system.

Now, Doug Jones may be a decent man, and a cut or two above Chuck and Nancy (who isn't?).  But as a Democrat, he'll "caucus" with Shutdown Schumer and other progressive Dems on many issues.  Not good for Alabama.

If the caucus system is good enough to select presidential candidates in Iowa, shouldn't it be good enough to select candidates for other jobs?  I don't believe that any of the states uses the caucus to select its U.S. Senate candidates.  So Alabama could serve as a model for all the other states by being the first state to replace primary elections for U.S. Senate candidates with caucuses.

At the very least, Alabama should change its election laws to allow the parties to make replacements on the ballot much closer to Election Day.  Otherwise, you have a situation where the Titanic has left port and her rudder has been locked in position and can't be changed.  If an iceberg just happens to be sitting in your path 75 days later...well, good luck.

Jon N. Hall of Ultracon Opinion is a programmer and analyst from Kansas City.

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