While it did not matter this year, we hope that the Louisiana Senate will eliminate one of its worst recent innovations — a secret ballot to choose its president.
Secret ballots by a legislative body are a bad practice and bring disrepute upon the body and the individual senators who seek to hide their decisions from those who elected them.
Last year, the Senate adopted a rule that allows the body to “nominate” its leaders — the president, foremost among them — by secret ballot. There would then be a formality, a unanimous “election” of the “nominees.”
Why was this done? The rationale for public consumption was that the nomination process need not be open to the public since it is a personnel matter, and that senators who in the past had been afraid of the power of the governor would be more independent.
“The things that prevent us from being independent I think could be alleviated with a secret ballot,” said Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, who authored the rule change.
The backstairs political argument was that veteran Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, wanted another term, and it was thought that his position might be in danger if a new governor wanted a change.
Unfortunately for the senators, the members of the House have beat them to the “independence” bandwagon, and done so through a public balloting by voice vote of the membership of the chamber. Alario, by contrast, faced no opponent this year.
Instead of the new governor’s nominee, a Democrat, the House’s Republican majority elected one of its own, Taylor Barras, of New Iberia, as its speaker. It was a contentious process involving two ballots, but the result was clear and represented a significant break from the past, when governors had overweening influence on the selection of the legislative leadership.
The winners and losers are big boys, and we do not detect any more than the usual dismay among the latter. If anything, the public process helped to clarify the power relationships in the House.
And not a single voter had to wonder who their House member voted for.
If deals or threats were made, the members’ votes are on the record to be seen. We think that it’s more likely that deal-cutting could occur with a secret ballot than with an open process.
Were House members heroes of this story? Well, not exactly. Last year, they were in favor of the same secret-ballot rule, but it was not changed legally, as time ran out on the legislative session.
This is not a matter of law but of Senate procedural rules. They can and should be changed, so that a future Senate election is not tainted by secrecy.