Frohnmayer: Voters to have Equal Voice under Unified Primary

Created: 19 June, 2014
Updated: 14 October, 2022
3 min read


Oregon voters may have an opportunity to reform state elections in November to a nonpartisan electoral system, but before this can happen, the initiative, called the Unified Primary, needs 87,000 signatures in 3 weeks. The Unified Primary would incorporate a nonpartisan, top-two open primary similar to the electoral systems in California and Washington state, but would add approval voting so voters can select more than one candidate on the ballot if they want to.

This new way to conduct nonpartisan elections is designed to do two things:

  1. Give every voter full and meaningful participation in Oregon elections.
  2. Eliminate the "vote-splitting spoiler effect that diminishes our voice for each additional candidate we like, and compels us to choose only the lesser of two evils."

Under the Unified Primary, all voters and candidates, regardless of political affiliation participate on a single ballot and the top two vote getters move on to the general election. However, voters may like more than one candidate on the ballot. So, instead of forcing them to choose just one candidate, they can select all the candidates they support. This is called approval voting.

Combined these two measures are meant to create an equal voting system.

According to the Unified Primary website, an equal voting system "is one that complies with Newton's third law of motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For you and I to have equal votes, I must be able to exactly cancel out your vote, such that the result of the election is the same before and after we both vote."

Under a plurality voting system, this works as long as there are only two candidates to choose from in an election. If John votes for Candidate A and Jane votes for Candidate B, their votes cancel each other out. However, if Candidates C and D are also in the race, then plurality voting fails this test, because it "unfairly advantages the voter who likes fewer candidates."

When more than one candidate is involved in an election, but voters are only allowed to choose one candidate, vote-splitting among similar candidates is inevitable. As a result, voters tend to vote with a "lesser of two evils" mentality. Under a Unified Primary, John and Jane can cast equal and opposite votes no matter how many candidates are on the ballot because voters can vote for each candidate.

There is growing support for the Unified Primary, but 87,000 signatures in 3 weeks are a lot of signatures to get in a short amount of time.

Entrepreneur Mark Frohnmayer, who is spearheading the Unified Primary Initiative, is specifically targeting the youngest of voters who are more likely to be enthusiastic about the idea. The Unify the Vote campaign has launched a friendly competition among schools in Oregon to see which school can get the most signatures by July 2.

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Specifically, in the video, Frohnmayer targets 3 of the biggest universities in Oregon: University of Oregon (UO), Oregon State University (OSU), and Portland State University (PSU). However, this competition is not just limited to these three schools nor is it limited to just current students. Anyone can participate and declare which team (school) they are playing for.

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