Louisiana’s October Election Day Violates Federal Law

1997

The Elections Clause of the Constitution, Article I, Section 4, along with the 17th Amendment, gives the states power to regulate the mechanics of congressional elections, unless Congress sets national rules. One congressional rule sets the date of the biennial election for the offices of U.S. senator and representative on a single November day.

Since 1978, Louisiana has held in October of a federal election year an “open primary” for congressional offices in which all candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same ballot. If a candidate for a given office receives a majority at the open primary, the candidate “is elected” and no further voting on the federal election day is held. In Foster v. Love, a challenge to the October voting date, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that Louisiana’s statute conflicts with federal law and that Congress clearly meant to have every state hold congressional elections at the same time.

The Court finds that the Louisiana system distorts the voting process because the results of an early federal election in one state can influence later voting in other states. Moreover, the two-day voting system may burden citizens forced to turn out on two different election days in presidential election years.