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Statement on Louisiana’s “taxpayer-funded power grab”

Legislature passes bill repealing the state’s nonpartisan primary

Ross Sherman
Press Director
January 19, 2024

In a special session today, the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill to repeal the state’s nonpartisan primary election system. Newly-inaugurated Gov. Jeff Landry first announced his intent to pursue closed primaries less than two weeks ago, and the governor is expected to sign it into law. 

The final bill represents a watered-down version of the governor’s initial proposal to close all primary elections for all offices. Instead, Louisiana will have a semi-open primary for federal offices, the state supreme court, the state school board, and the Public Service Commission. Independent voters can still cast ballots in primaries for these offices, but doing so will require choosing which party primary to participate in. The law will not take effect until 2026.

The move from nonpartisan to semi-open primaries for select offices: 

  • Reduces voter power: Voters no longer have the ability to vote for any candidate, regardless of party, in elections for every office. The 821,906 independent voters in Louisiana (28%) must instead choose a single party’s ballot in the primary. Democrats — including 76% of Black voters — cannot vote in Republican primaries, and will be effectively disenfranchised from the only elections of consequence in this heavily Republican state.
  • Goes against the will of Louisiana voters: In a recent poll, 65% supported keeping the current system.
  • Increases election costs: Adding extra elections could cost Louisiana up to $90,000,000 over ten years.
  • Undermines good governance: Louisiana eliminated party primaries in 1975, which according to a Unite America Institute report, increased meaningful voter participation, dampened political polarization, and improved governance. The Louisiana Legislature is routinely ranked the second-or third-least polarized in the nation.

Executive Director Nick Troiano released the following statement in response to the bill’s passage:

“Louisiana lawmakers’ first action this session was a taxpayer-funded power grab, ramming through a wildly unpopular repeal of an election system that has been in place for nearly 50 years.
“While we are disheartened by today’s result, we are grateful to the leaders and voters in Louisiana who voted to put people over party and opposed this effort — significantly reducing the scope of the bill to just federal, supreme court offices, and a handful of others while delaying its implementation. 
“Louisiana politicians tried this same stunt more than a decade ago and it lasted just two years amid voter confusion and opposition. Unite America is committed to supporting partners on the ground to ensure the same outcome again.”

You can find more information on nonpartisan, semi-open, and closed primaries here.