On January 16, the Mississippi secretary of state’s 2014 Committee to Review Election Laws (CREL) issued a formal recommendation for the adoption of a nonpartisan, top-two primary election system. Should the legislature follow the advice, all Mississippi elections — including for Congress — would be conducted along nonpartisan lines.
Open Primaries, a national political reform organization, is urging the Mississippi Legislature to follow the recommendation and adopt a fully open and nonpartisan election system. President of Open Primaries, John Opdycke stated:
“There is a growing national movement in the direction of open and nonpartisan primaries. We need more competition in the political process, more inclusiveness, more debate and more voters. I hope Mississippi becomes the next state to enact this crucial reform.” - John Opdycke, Open Primaries
The CREL was empaneled after controversy in 2014 over the Republican primary and runoff for U.S. Senate. A record number of African-Americans — who typically back Democrats — were mobilized to vote by Black leaders for incumbent Senator Thad Cochran against a far right challenger, State Senator Chris McDaniel, in the primary runoff. Any Mississippian who had not participated in the Democratic Party primary three weeks prior was eligible to vote.Black voters, exercising their right to mobility under the state’s current form of open primaries, were widely credited with securing the Republican nomination for Cochran. Ultra-conservative Republicans used this surge in African-American participation, and McDaniel’s subsequent defeat, to advocate for closing Mississippi’s primary system, a change that would end voter mobility altogether.
The CREL recommended the adoption of nonpartisan, top-two primaries, which would give all Mississippians more access and more choice by abolishing party primaries altogether and substituting a public primary instead. The CREL rejected calls to enact a more partisan system, stating that “closed primaries discourage the youth from participating in elections and have a negative impact on voter registration and minority voters.”
In its support of the top-two system, the CREL credited this proposed system with allowing voters to choose candidates of different parties, and allowing campaigns to focus on issues, rather than party rhetoric.
Dr. Lenora Fulani, a national advocate for nonpartisan primaries and the first African-American to appear on the presidential ballot in all 50 states, added, “Voter mobility is an important issue for black Americans. 35% of Blacks under the age of 40 are independent, which is a huge change from a generation ago. We don’t want party membership to be a requirement for voting, and we don’t want to be locked into voting for one party. The more mobility and independence we have, the more power we have.”
Michael Hardy, general counsel and executive vice president of the National Action Network, offered his support for the CREL recommendation as well:
"A more perfect union means eliminating barriers that prevent any voter from exercising his or her right to participate. The Committee's recommendation to enact nonpartisan primary elections is thoughtful and I hope the legislature will carefully consider their proposals." - Michael Hardy, National Action Network