How people elect parliaments
By virtue of its unusual, French-style voting system the state of Louisiana will be late in finalising the choice of its next US Senator.
If the results of other senatorial elections around the nation held on 8 November are close, all eyes may turn to the final Louisiana ballot, to be held on 3 December.
The 100-member US Senate is expected to be divided narrowly between Democratic and Republican party senators from next January, with the outcome – quite possibly a 50-50 split – playing a large role in determining how easily an expected Clinton administration might govern the nation.
Louisiana uses a form of two-round runoff election to choose its state and national legislative and executive office holders. The process also effectively serves as an internal party primary election.
The national election day on 8 November is used as the first round of voting, with multiple candidates from all parties nominating together in what is termed a jungle or blanket primary.
Incumbent Republican Senator David Vittner is retiring, and a total of 9 Republicans, 7 Democrats and 8 other candidates are on the initial ballot to replace him.
Assuming that no candidate wins 50% of the first round vote (which polls indicate has no chance of happening), only the top-two vote winners will proceed to the second and final round of voting on 3 December.
Louisiana is a reliably Republican-voting state at most events, but its roughly 2 million voters can still elect popular Democrat politicians on occasions.
Of specific interest will be the actual distribution of votes among the many first round candidates. If the Democratic party vote – last totalling 44% at the 2014 Senate contest – were to be concentrated on just two candidates fairly equally, and the Republican’s nominal 56% be fragmented among several candidates, it becomes possible for the Democrats to secure both final ballot places and win the normally red state for their party.
Such an outcome is entirely possible based on recent opinion polling. Democratic candidates Caroline Fayard is polling 16%, and Foster Campbell 12%, while the five other Democrats have very low results – the ideal distribution for the party.
The Republicans’ situation is also largely what their opponents would hope, with at least four main candidates John Neely Kennedy (recent polling 22%), Charles Boustany (14%), John Fleming (9%), and the ever-controversial former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke (5%) dividing the party’s main vote.
The Democrat task is difficult. Polls show the leading Republican John Neely Kennedy winning all final match-ups against every Republican or Democratic rival, and he remains the nominal favourite.
Kennedy has been the elected Treasurer of the state repeatedly since 1999, serving five consecutive terms. His political career started with the Democratic party, and he first ran for the US Senate under that party banner in 2004, before switching to the Republican party in 2007.
Leading Republican candidate John Neely Kennedy has won elections running for both major political parties over nearly two decades (Image: Louisiana Department of the Treasury)
Kennedy again ran for the Senate in 2008, losing only narrowly with 46% of the vote. His last re-election as state Treasurer in 2015 saw him win a massive 80% of the vote.
Louisiana is normally a safely Republican-voting state, but on some occasions partisan divisions can be close, as shown by the divided map (left) of the 2008 US Senate contest. That contest was won by Democrat incumbent Mary Landrieu against Republican rival John Neely Kennedy; the latter is running again in 2016 (image: Wikipedia)
But polls show leading Democrat Caroline Fayard could narrowly beat the second-most popular Republican Charles Boustany in a final two-candidate contest, and she would certainly defeat David Duke.
So if Kennedy’s support somehow declines by 8 November to third place, the Democrats could snatch the seat – a result of national significance.
If the Democrats are lucky enough to claim the top two spots, the certainty that their party will take the seat will be known on 9 November.
Otherwise, depending on the other national results, the nation might have to wait four more weeks for the final political balance of the US Senate to be determined.