Pundits have framed this year’s election cycle as having the potential to shift control of the United States Senate from Democrats to Republicans—and given the sheer number of close races across the country, nearly every seat in serious contention has the makings of being the deciding race. Due to Louisiana’s unusual election laws, however, the chattering class might not know which way the pendulum will swing until long after Election Day on November 4th. Louisiana’s Senate race is, by all accounts, extremely close: both Republican and Democratic party committees (as well as outside superPACs) have poured money into the state in recent weeks. Incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu, who has struggled to distance herself from an unpopular President, is facing Republican challenger Bill Cassidy, who some have characterized as “too boring” for a state with a history of colorful political characters. Louisiana’s election laws are atypical in that they provide for a non-partisan “jungle primary” on November 4th—the general election day for the rest of the country—with the general election following a month later, if necessary, on December 6th.
Under this system, candidates who earn more than 50% of the vote in the November primary win election to office outright; however, if no candidate makes it past the 50% mark, a second round election between the top two candidates occurs the next month. Recent polling indicates that neither Landrieu or Cassidy may be able to reach the 50% mark the first time around; thus, it appears likely that the second round will indeed occur in December.
Louisiana’s unusual election system has a storied history dating back nearly four decades. In the early 1970s, Democratic Governor Edwin Edwards pushed for an alternative to the closed primary system then in place: to win office, Edwards was forced to surmount a contentious primary and primary runoff, only to face Dave Treen—a well-funded Republican candidate who had sailed through the primary unscathed—in the general. Edwards believed that compelling all candidates for an office to face the same primary process would be far more equitable than allowing the uncontested candidate to have an advantage. The jungle primary was set for October, with the optional general election set for November.