Monday editorial 12-31

Election delay

Miles’ proposal is sound,

and not just for this year

Continued indecision and uncertainty over congressional redistricting prompted a Northeast Mississippi legislator to pre-file a bill last week to postpone the qualifying date and party primaries for this year’s elections.

Given the circumstances, introduction of the bill by Rep. Bill Miles, D-Fulton, is a prudent move.

The Legislature has failed to achieve a compromise on how to reduce the state’s U.S. House districts from five to four, as the 2000 Census dictates. The matter is tied up in state and federal courts where Democratic and Republican partisans are hoping for favorable outcomes. Lawmakers could – and should -go back to the drawing board and come up with their own plan acceptable to both the House and Senate, but that seems less likely to happen with each passing day.

Even if a legislative compromise could be forged, it likely would face a series of court challenges and appeals that could take weeks if not months. And U.S. Justice Department approval of any plan has to be worked in somewhere.

Currently the qualifying deadline for candidates is March 1, with party primaries slated for June 4. The boundaries of districts could very well not be known by the qualifying date, so Miles’ proposal is logical. It would give candidates until June to qualify for primaries rescheduled in August, with the general election in November. It would help reduce electoral confusion for both candidates and voters.

Additionally, it would shorten the campaign season. That’s enough by itself to recommend the change – even without the impetus of a redistricting mess.

The March qualifying deadline is a built-in advantage for incumbents, forcing early decisions by potential challengers and setting the field a full eight months before the final outcome is decided. A permanent change, not just for this year, would be advisable.

Primaries in state and county elections always come in August, no more than three months before the general election, which is fixed in November. There’s no compelling reason to keep the congressional primaries in June, and good reason to push them back to August and shorten a long campaign. That would save candidates money and voters an unnecessarily lengthy courtship by the candidates.

For the immediate future, the Miles proposal is the way to go to address a particular year’s circumstances. But it’s also worth a hard look for the long term as a better way of conducting congressional elections.