Of course, this entire arrangement helps protect incumbents. A shortened, distracted election season prevents challengers from getting their message to the voters.
In this race, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has had the advantage of a massive war chest, universal name recognition, and a political network honed through decades of campaigns. His major opponent, Judge Michael Bagneris, has had only six weeks to raise money and his profile among a very distracted electorate.
Most observers give Bagneris high marks for making the race competitive and forcing the incumbent to appear in debates and defend his record. Without Bagneris, Landrieu would have enjoyed a coronation, not a re-election campaign.
With an election schedule favoring Landrieu, Judge Bagneris knew that he was the underdog from the beginning. The Mayor also has history on his side. In New Orleans, it is almost impossible to defeat an incumbent Mayor. In fact, is has been 68 years since the last one lost.
While Bagneris is facing many disadvantages, he could have one important factor in his favor. Mayor Landrieu has governed with a brash, domineering style that has alienated many groups in the city. All of these “enemies” will be motivated to vote against Landrieu tomorrow. Bagneris will be the recipient of the vast majority of these votes, as the third candidate in the race, NAACP leader Danatus King, is mainly a protest candidate with no money.
After the results are in from this race, it is high time to move the New Orleans elections to the fall, at a time when voters are accustomed to going to the polls. Local voters cast ballots in state and national elections in the fall, and the New Orleans elections should follow the same schedule.The result will be fewer distractions and a higher turnout.
Another reform needed is to increase the election season by moving back the qualifying period. We should be encouraging more challengers to run for office instead of protecting incumbents.
Every incumbent needs to be challenged and be forced to defend his or her record. More challengers give voters more choice and that inevitably leads to better decisions. Obviously, in the past, there have been many elections in which our voters did not make the best decision. Let’s at least increase the odds that they will choose wisely.