Monday, September 7, 2015

Trucker Wins Democratic Primary for Mississippi Governor

Robert Gray, the Democratic Nominee for Governor of Mississippi
JACKSON-- Robert Gray, a trucker from the small Mississippi town of Terry and an unknown, won the Democratic primary in the Mississippi race for governor, despite the fact that he never campaigned. In fact, his own mother never knew that he was running. 
Robert Gray owes his victory to two main factors-- (i) that his name was first on the ballot and (ii) that Mississippi voters do not to register by party, meaning that Republicans could vote in the Democratic primaries if they do not want to vote in their own party’s primary.
Gray won roughly 51% of the vote, beating two candidates who actually ran campaigns: Vicki Slater, a trial lawyer, and Dr. Valerie Short, an obstetrician-gynecologist.
This is by no means an isolated incident for Southern Democrats-- as the Democratic party has lost all of the hold that it once had over the South, statewide elections are almost certain to go to Republicans candidates, and serious candidates are often beaten by the first name on the ballot. For instance, in Tennessee, a man named “Charlie Brown” won the 2014 Democratic primary for governor, thanks in large part to the fact that his name was first on the ballot. Brown, a retiree, sent letter to state newspapers in which he commented that he would like to strap the Tennessee governor to an electric chair, due to Brown’s anger over the governor’s death sentence policies.
Gray’s win is evidence of the dismal state of Democrats in the South, and their growing irrelevance in Southern statewide elections-- in the Deep South, the Republican primary could be considered is the only vote that counts in gubernatorial elections, ie. the de- facto general election.**

Uncompetitive elections and partisanship: Are uncompetitive general elections a threat to democracy, or merely a sign of deeply held beliefs? Is such partisanship an example of the threat of faction, as Madison mentioned in Federalist paper #10? Or rather, is it not a threat because their party allegiance comes from beliefs about what is best for the nation, and is not a case of putting the good of the party over the good of the people?
Do frivolous elections alway spell bad news for our democracy?

States’ voting procedures: Additionally, should all states have voters register by party? Would the election results have been different if only registered Democrats could vote in the Democratic primary?

**(Note that this only refers to the Deep South. Some States in the upper South, such as Kentucky, Missouri, and Virginia, have Democratic governors.)

New York Times Article
Article from "The Tennessean," a Tennessee local newspaper
Image source: Andrea Morales for the New York Times, from the same article cited above.


Langston Swiecki said...

Uncooperative general elections are not in the spirit of democracy, as they force the entirety of a population to be represented by a single representative who does not need to actually compete to hold office, also destroying the concept of elections based on merit. A system by which parties hold primaries and the resultant victors of each square off in a general is fine if the balance of democrats and republicans is close to 50-50, but in lopsided states, this just creates the same problem, as the general election becomes a joke. One solution to this situation is what California has done with its gubernatorial elections, as the top two candidates with the most votes run against each other, regardless of party, allowing for a general election that is more likely to be competitive, ensuring that the most competent candidate, as decided by the voters, holds office. This is not a perfect system by any means, but it ideally helps lessen the role of partisanship and forces individuals to think deeper on who they want as their most powerful state representative, which is marginalized by frivolous elections.

Carolyn Ku said...

I do see the kind of partisanship seen in the Deep South as an example of the threat of faction Madison mentioned in Federalist #10. However, this kind of faction can pose more threat to the democratic system on the local level than on the national level. I see the problem of people throwing their Democratic vote away on non-serious candidates as a problem of people not wanting to give their vote to the Republican Party, but not believing that their Democratic vote will make any difference. The strong Republican faction in the deep South is strong because many people believe in their conservative ideals, but also because it has become expected that the Republican party will win in the South. Thus more liberal minded people do not think that their vote will make any difference to break this Republican tradition, so they are less likely to actively participate in the democratic process.