Top-Two-Go-Through Limits Voters’ Choice

State primary elections in the United States are used to narrow the field of candidates for the general election. They originated out of the progressive movement to take the power of candidate nomination from party leaders to the people. There are several types of primaries which states have used over the years; open, closed, semi-open, semi-closed, blanket, and other mixes. One type of primary known as top-two (aka qualifying primary, top-two primary, Louisiana primary, Cajun primary or jungle primary) is creating quite a stir. For good reason it would seem.

Under the top-two system, state primaries include all candidates from any number of parties. Candidates decide what party they will affiliate themselves with, with no official sponsoring from the party itself. Voters cast votes for candidate regardless of the party to which they themselves belong. Only the top two vote getters appear on the ballot in the November general election. The obvious potential outcome is that two candidates from the same party move on to the general election leaving the voters with no real ideological options.

“The top-two system was introduced by Governor Edwin Edwards of Louisiana, a conservative Democrat, who had been elected to his first term as Governor in 1972. Louisiana was a one-party state, with all the legislators Democrats throughout the previous 50 years, except that in 1972, three Republicans were elected to the legislature. Edwards invited the top-two system and had it passed through the legislature, because he thought it would prevent any more Republicans from winning. He thought they would fail to place first or second in the first round.”

Christina Tobin, in an interview with Judge Napolitano, pointed out how top-two protected incumbants. She stated that in Louisianna, where top-two has been in effect for over thirty-years, there was never an incumbant knocked off the ballot. In 2008, Louisiana dropped top-two and 5 incumbants lost in the primaries.

“Louisiana’s top-two system at first only applied to state and local elections, and went into effect in 1975. In 1978, the legislature extended top-two to congressional elections. The first round was to be in September, and if anyone got at least 50%, that person was elected. Most Louisiana congressional elections were thus only one-round elections.

“However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the Louisiana style of top-two elections for Congress violated federal law that told the states to hold congressional elections in November. So Louisiana adjusted its top-two system for Congress to say that the first round would be in November, and if no one got at least 50%, there would be a run-off in December between the top two vote getters. In 2006, the legislature decided it would restore normal partisan elections for Congress (but not state office) and ended top-two in congressional elections. In 2010, the legislature restored top-two elections for Congress, starting in 2012.”

“Top Two systems, although they can technically differ based on language, are notorious for implicitly shutting out third parties by implementing hefty ballot registration requirements, fostering a hostile mainstream media and promoting massive spending early on in the primary race. These tactics undeniably put third parties at a disadvantage due to the ethical nature of their fundraising which does not include massive corporate bankrolling such as is the tactic of the major parties.

“Despite the advantages the ruling parties have already built for themselves, they push to implement Top Two election systems in states nationwide to ensure that a pesky third party can never disturb their one party, two faction rule ever again. Imagine – being given the option of only two pre-screened candidates on Election Day – and worse, by law! Can you say, Oligopoly?

“Advocates of Top Two argue that any candidate could run in the first round of voting – the general primary – only after which would the field be reduced to the top two candidates. Nonetheless, they fail to acknowledge the fact that relegating third party candidates to the first round will deprive voters of the important role third parties have played in general election cycles by injecting fresh ideas into debates and ultimately playing a part in deciding elections.”

For much more on the topic see


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