Efforts to rework Louisiana congressional elections calendar fail

Louisiana won’t be making changes to its system for electing members of Congress, after state senators rejected the last pending proposal about the congressional elections calendar Wednesday.

Republican Rep. Barry Ivey was trying to shift election dates to earlier in the year to ensure the state would no longer elect its congressional members later than the rest of the country. The House had unanimously agreed to the idea, but senators questioned Ivey’s approach and the risk of litigation.

The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee killed Ivey’s proposal, SB557, without objection, ending the discussion for the legislative session, which ends next week. Senate Republican leader Sharon Hewitt of Slidell earlier in the session scrapped her closed primary bill to shift the elections calendar because of sharp disagreements among GOP officials about the idea.

In Louisiana’s current open primary system, all candidates regardless of party run against one another for elected office. If no one candidate tops 50% in that primary, the top two vote-getters advance to a head-to-head runoff.

States aren’t allowed to elect members of Congress before November of an election year. Louisiana’s open primary system allows someone to win outright in a primary, so the state holds its congressional primaries in November. If runoffs are needed, they’re held in December.

That sometimes has Louisiana electing new members of Congress later than most other states. Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and other officials have suggested that puts new Louisiana congressional delegation members at a disadvantage because they miss orientation sessions, committee decisions and office assignments.

Ivey proposed to shift the election dates to earlier in a year but not declare a candidate elected until the November general election—even if the candidate wins outright in the open primary.

Sen. Franklin Foil, a Baton Rouge Republican, said he’s talked to members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation who don’t have concerns about electing members of Congress in December. And he worried that shifting the elections calendar could drive Louisiana into court.

“I don’t know if it’s worth the risk to put us in litigation,” Foil said.

Ivey, of Baton Rouge, said he believed his bill would keep Louisiana in compliance with federal laws, regulations and court decisions.

“I’ve done my due diligence,” he said.

Still, lawyers with Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office also raised concerns about provoking a lawsuit. Not mentioned in the hearing was Landry’s support of moving to a closed primary, rather than simply shifting the elections calendar.