Louisiana's Top-Two System Appears to Have Injured the New Alliance Party

The New Alliance Party was the nation’s most successful “left” party during the period 1986-1993. It placed its presidential nominee on the ballot in all 50 states in 1988, and in 40 states in 1992. It qualified for over $900,000 in primary season matching funds in 1988, and $2,100,000 in 1992. It had offices, or candidates for local office, or both, in 36 states during those years. It elected a state legislator in Nebraska in 1988.

In U.S. history, no other “left” party had such success with ballot access as the New Alliance Party did in 1988. Even the Socialist Party never qualified for the government-printed ballot in all states, even in the party’s strongest decades, the 1900’s and 1910’s.

The New Alliance Party held itself out to the public as a party led by African-Americans, and this was certainly true, at least partially. Some criticis pooh-poohed that claim because the party’s leader was Fred Newman, who was white. Nevertheless, all of the party’s presidential candidates were African-Americans, as were many of its gubernatorial candidates. As a black-led party, the New Alliance Party worked especially hard to establish strength in southern states. It had many candidates for public office in the south. But there are three southern states in which the party never opened a campaign office or headquarters, and never had any candidates for public office (other than presidential elector). They were Arkansas, Florida, and Louisiana.

Louisiana had the top-two open primary for all offices, 1978 through 2006. Also, Louisiana had very discriminatory laws relating to party labels on the ballot during the years 1978 through 2004, the years the New Alliance Party was active. It appears that the Louisiana top-two system so discouraged the New Alliance Party from participating in Louisiana elections that the party simply did no organizing in that state. By contrast, the New Alliance Party had many strong campaigns in Texas and Mississippi, two states that border Louisiana.

18 comments

  1. Well, glad we are getting some good press here in Louisiana

  2. I really think in the ’90s, there could’ve been 3 major third parties: the Reformers, the Alliancers and the Libertarians.

    Maybe, just maybe, what third partiers could’ve tried to do is create parties within a third party. I certainly believe that the Reform Party could’ve been seen as the major third party, but then you would’ve had the New Alliance, Greens, Libertarians and Constitutionalists as minor third parties.

    In other words, something like the Ron Paul faction has been trying to do within the Republican Party.

  3. This is what the New Alliancers, like me, proposed to do and why we folded and joined to help lead the Reform Party. The problem was that most third partyists would not follow and we hadn’t honestly matured enough to pull this off either.

    Hind site is always 20-20. Or better, at least.

  4. There was an news report in a black women’s magazine called “Sister 2 Sister” about the 1992 campaign when the party nominated psychologist Lenora Fulani for a second time. It said there were reports she had been accepting contributions from her patients. (Illegal) It also said it was declaring itself to be a party for blacks and women when all of the top staff of the campaign were white males. (Double standard) This was in Autumn, 1992.

  5. Didn’t the 1916 Socialist Party candidate for president, Allen Benson, (AKA “The One Who Wasn’t Eugene Debs”) get on the ballot in all 48 states?

  6. Richard Winger · · Reply

    #5, in 1901 the North Carolina legislature created government-printed ballots, and said the only parties that could be on that ballot were parties that had polled at least 50,000 votes for Governor in 1900. Therefore, it was literally impossible for a newly-qualifying party to ever qualify. The Socialist Party never appeared on a government-printed ballot in North Carolina until the law was changed in 1929. When the Socialist Party got Norman Thomas on the government-printed ballot in 1932, that was the first time a party other than the Dem & Rep Parties had appeared on a government-printed ballot in North Carolina.

    Because the North Carolina legislature in 1901 realized the law might seem overly oppressive, the state said that parties that didn’t qualify for the government-printed ballot could still print up its own ballots, and hand them out to its supporters, and those ballots would also count. That is how minor parties got votes in North Carolina during the years 1902-1928. Even Theodore Roosevelt and his Progressive Party had to depend on privately-printed ballots in North Carolina in 1912. Roosevelt did very well in North Carolina in 1912, but it was thru private ballots.

    In 1913 the legislature said a party that submitted 10,000 signatures could have a primary, but that law did not say that such a party would then have its nominees printed on the government-printed ballot. Only in 1929 was the 10,000-petition requirement made relevant to being on a government-printed ballot.

  7. Jim Riley · · Reply

    I see nothing that supports your headline nor your final paragraph.

    “It elected a state legislator in Nebraska in 1988.”

    So apparently your claim does not refer to Top 2 Systems in general, but only that of Louisiana. Is that your claim.

  8. Richard Winger · · Reply

    Ernie Chambers was a registered member of the New Alliance Party when he was re-elected to the State Senate. He was simultaneously the New Alliance Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate.

  9. Jim Riley · · Reply

    #8 Was Ernie Chambers elected under a Top 2 system?

    Is it not true that the ONLY legislator affiliated with the New Alliance Party who was ever elected in the ENTIRE USA, was elected under the Top 2 system?

    Yes, it is true.

    Demonstrably TOP 2 is not injurious to the election of NAP-affiliated legislators. To the contrary, election of NAP-affiliated legislators is 100% correlated with TOP 2.

    There is NOTHING in your article that supports your claim or your headline. NOTHING.

  10. Richard Winger · · Reply

    Nebraska does not have a top-two system. It has ordinary partisan semi-closed primaries for all federal office, and county office, and state executive posts. For legislature it has a non-partisan system. Political scientists have found that party label on the ballot is the most important determinant of voting behavior. To equate non-partisan elections with top-two elections is a misuse of the English language and ignores that most important determinant of voting behavior. If every state had non-partisan elections for legislature, there would probably be 100 minor party members in state legislatures.

    If top-two supporters think non-partisan elections are so great, why don’t they work for non-partisan elections? Because they know that voters want party labels on the ballot for state and federal office. The California supporters of top-two toyed with the idea of an initiative for non-partisan elections, but they polled the idea and found it was very unpopular.

  11. Jim Riley · · Reply

    #10 You asserted, “It [the New Alliance Party] elected a state legislator in Nebraska in 1988.”

    Was that a misuse of the English language, or not true?

    For most of its history, including 1988, Nebraska has elected its legislature using a Top 2 system where the primary is open to all candidates and voters. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary advance to the general election.

    This same system is used in Washington (since 2008) and California (from 2011), and when adopted in Arizona, will be used from 2014.

    It is true that in those 3 States that there is partisan information on the ballot provided by the candidates.

    These electoral systems differ from systems used in other States where there are partisan primaries with restricted, not-open, participation by candidates and voters.

    There are two types of primaries:

    (1) Participation by voters and candidates is restricted on the basis of party affiliation, and the primaries choose the nominees of the party. It is a misuse of language to refer to some variants as “open” or “semi-open” based on when the decision is made by the voter as to which party’s primary to vote in.

    (2) Participation by voters and candidates is not restricted on the basis of party affiliation, and the primaries do not choose the nominee of a party. Participation is open to all.

    Voters are accustomed to party labels on legislative and congressional ballots. Most officers in those areas are actually chosen in the partisan primary, where the party label means nothing, other than for charges of so-and-so is not a real Democrat or real Republican. Party bosses like that system.

    At one time county officials in California were elected on a partisan basis. It would have been “unthinkable” to have non-partisan elections. But Hiram Johnson thought the unthinkable. Is there a clamor to go back to partisan primaries for county or city offices in California?

  12. Jim, if you can find any article earlier than 2004 in which the Nebraska non-partisan legislative election system is referred to as a “top-two primary”, please let me know about it.

    The New Alliance Party during its heydey was profoundly interested in growing, by bringing in new activists. Louisiana did not bring in any activists to the party. Louisiana was not one of the states in which Fulani got enough contributions to help her get primary season matching funds. Louisiana was not one of the states in which the party set up programs to help underprivileged youth. Louisiana was not one of the states in which the party set up psychotherapy programs. Louisiana was not one of the states in which the party set up a Rainbow Lobby office. The New Alliance Party was thwarted in all its goals within the state of Louisiana.

  13. Jim Riley · · Reply

    #12 The New Alliance Party did not set up a psychotherapy program in Louisiana because of the open primary? Are you crazy?

    Or do you simply not understand the difference between correlation and causality? And you don’t even have correlation.

    The Nebraska constitution simply provides that election and nomination of legislators be nonpartisan. The only place that I found in statute specifying Top 2, was in that section relating to vacancies in nomination. A vacancy in nomination for a nonpartisan primary occurs when there are fewer than twice the number of candidates as there offices to be filled.

    It appears that Nebraskans simply intrinsically understand that a nonpartisan primary is Top 2.

    What did Minneapolis call its primary? Was it not Top 2 simply because the law did not call it Top 2.

    There were two States that did not have partisan nominations for the general election for the legislature. In these two states participation in the primary was not restricted, constrained, closed, inhibited, or not open to participation by all qualified voters and candidates. All voters were free to vote for any candidate, without regard to party affiliation of the candidate.

    In both States the Top 2 candidates advanced to the general election, though one of them had an exception in the case where one candidate received a majority in the primary.

    The terms Open and Top 2 aptly describe this electoral system.

    One of them elected the only NAP-affiliated candidate ever elected to a legislature of any State. In the other, NAP did not set up a psychotherapy program.

  14. The New Alliance Party gained members and prestige in Nebraska when Ernie Chambers, the state’s most powerful African-American politician, switched his voter registration to “New Alliance Party” and entered the party’s primary for US Senate. What the New Alliance Party gained by that would have been impossible in Louisiana, because Nebraska has partisan primaries and therefore the US Senate race became a 3-way race. But in Louisiana, Chambers could not have got on the general election ballot because Louisiana had (and has) a top-two system for both houses of Congress.

    Chambers went to court to run for his State Senate seat at the same time he was running for US Senator. He lost the court case. But, he was so popular, he won re-election to the State Senate as a write-in candidate.

  15. Jim Riley · · Reply

    In the 1988 presidential election in Nebraska, Bush received 60.16%, Dukakis 39.19%, Paul 0.38%, and Fulani 0.26% (curiously, Idaho was Fulani’s second best State on a percentage basis).

    Fulani also received 0.26% in Arkansas, a State you said the NAP never had a non-presidential candidate.

    Ernie Chambers received 6 times as many votes in his senate race as did Fulani in her presidential race, so it was likely that his personal support was due to his gadfly perennial candidate role (he has also run for governor and AG).

    Incidentally, Chambers finished 4th in the NAP senatorial primary in 1988. Bob Kerrey who had 4 times as many votes as Chambers was unable to accept the nomination because of Nebraska’s anti-fusion laws.

    There were no candidates on the ballot in his 1988 legislative district race. Though Nebraska has Top 2 elections, he was usually unopposed in the primary, and it is not easy to qualify by petition for the general election.

    In 1988, he was on the ballot for the legislative race in the primary, and as noted above, was chosen as the NAP senate nominee after finishing 4th in the primary. The court case probably made some inane case that because the NAP voters had not chosen him it was OK for him to run for two offices on the general election ballot. He received more write-in votes than any other candidate.

    Incidentally, he is making a comeback attempt. Nebraska’s term limit laws, prevent election to a 3rd consecutive 4-year term, there is not any lifetime term limit.

    Since Louisiana does not actually have a Top 2 election system, a Louisianan Ernie Chambers could have received 1.5% of the vote in the general election, and be in no different position than the Nebraska version – an also ran.

    The Louisiana system does attract more candidates. For example the 1986 senate election had 14 candidates, and a candidate with as little support as Chambers had (1.5%) would have finished 6th.

    So in reality, it appears that under the restrictive partisan nomination schemes, that 3rd Party candidates often represent “None of The Above”, “Throw Da Bums Out”, “They’re All Crooks”, or “My Dog Ate My Ballot” rather than as expression of political philosophy of the voters.

    Libertarian votes plummeted in Nevada once “None of These Candidates” became available.

  16. Richard Winger · · Reply

    #16, your sentence “Libertarian votes plummeted in Nevada once ‘none of these candidates'” appeared shows you don’t know when “none of these candidates” started (or else you don’t know when the Libertarian Party first got on the ballot in Nevada). There has never been an election in Nevada in which the Libertarian Party was on the ballot and “none of these candidates” was not on the ballot.

    The first time “none of these candidates” was on the Nevada ballot was 1976. And the first time the Libertarian Party was also on the ballot was also 1976.

  17. The Clerk of the House has not consistently reported None of These Candidates, sometimes not reporting anything, other times reporting it as “Other”, and other times as “None of These Candidates”.

    Has a Libertarian senate candidate ever finished ahead of NOTC in Nevada.

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