Court Rejects Early Election in Louisiana
By Joan Biskupic
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a state may not choose its members of Congress before the official federal election day, which is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
By a unanimous vote, the justices struck down a Louisiana statute that allowed congressional candidates to be selected in October. The court said Louisiana's system ended up forcing voters to turn out for two sets of federal elections and influenced congressional races in the rest of the country, where voting takes place a month later.
In an opinion by Justice David H. Souter, the court said the Constitution gives Congress the final say on the date of national elections. The justices concluded that an 1872 law setting a single November day for all congressional and presidential elections holds for the entire nation.
Under a 1975 Louisiana law, the state held an "open primary" for members of Congress in October. All candidates, regardless of their party, appeared on the same ballot and all voters, regardless of their party affiliation, chose among the candidates. If no candidate for a given office received a majority, the state scheduled a runoff between the top two vote-getters the following month, on the federal election day.
But if a candidate did get a majority of the vote in October as has happened more than 80 percent of the time that candidate was elected in the October balloting. Defending its law against a constitutional challenge, Louisiana officials contended that the October primary was held only to determine which candidates qualify for the November ballot.
But the Supreme Court decided in Foster v. Love that because the state law allows a candidate to conclusively win the office before the November national election day, it conflicts with the federal statute.
Legal experts said Louisiana is alone among states in allowing for potentially conclusive results before November.
A separate case yesterday involved a federal prisoner who bribed a deputy sheriff into allowing the inmate to have conjugal visits with both his wife and his girlfriend. The deputy was charged with violating federal racketeering, conspiracy and bribery law.
In a unanimous decision in Salinas v. United States, the justices said federal bribery law does not require proof that federal funds were involved.
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