Update notice: This article has been updated from the original published post to include quotes from Maurice Henderson, the campaign manager for Yes on Oregon Open Primary.
Voters in Oregon will have an opportunity to reform elections in the state to give all voters, regardless of party affiliation, a meaningful and equal voice in all integral stages of the election process. Initiative Petition 55, also known as the “Open Primary Initiative,” officially qualified for the ballot on Tuesday, July 15.
The Open Primary Initiative proposes a nonpartisan, top-two open primary similar to the primary systems in California and Washington state. Under the proposal, all voters and candidates, regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof), would participate on a single primary ballot. Voters would be able to vote for whomever they wanted in each race, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, would then move on to the general election.
“We have the California and Washington experiences to draw from, and we have included provisions in our measure that we believe will make the Oregon version viable for passage here,” said Maurice Henderson, campaign manager for Yes on Oregon Open Primary, in an interview for IVN.
Currently, Oregon has a closed partisan primary system. This means voters have to be registered with the Republican or Democratic parties in order to participate in primary elections, preventing hundreds of thousands of independent, third party, and decline-to-state voters from having a meaningful and equal say on who ends up representing them. Yet, voters not affiliated with either major party contribute to the funding of these elections.
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According to an IVN report published in March, primary elections in Oregon cost the state just under $9 million each year. Between 2000 and 2012, the total cost was estimated at nearly $54 million. Over this 12-year period, voters not affiliated with either major party contributed a significant portion of this amount. However, public funds are being used to sponsor elections with a private purpose — the selection of candidates for private organizations.
“General elections have become less competitive and now nearly all races are decided in the primary,” Henderson explained. “In 2014, only 8 percent of races in the Oregon House and 7 percent of races in the Oregon Senate are truly “toss-ups.”
Yet, non-major party voters (nearly one-third of the registered voting population) are denied their fundamental rights in Oregon when they are told that having an equal voice in all integral stages of the voting process is contingent on being a member of a private organization.
Oregon’s closed primary not only violates the constitutionally-protected right of non-association, guaranteed in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but violates protections guaranteed in both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions to equal consideration under the law, as well as the right to vote in free and equal elections. The Open Primary Initiative looks to correct this by giving voters and candidates equal access to the primary ballot.
“If the open primary measure passes in November, it will make every voter equal in every election, increase voters’ choices, and reduce government gridlock,” Henderson said. “We will have to deliver this message in the face of attacks levied by proponents of the status quo, who want to defend a closed system because it is easier for them to control.”
On June 23, the Every Oregon Voter Counts Petition Committee submitted over 140,000 signatures from registered voters, setting a record for the fastest signature gathering effort for ballot qualification in the state’s history. The initiative qualified for the November ballot with 91,716 valid signatures, according to Secretary of State Kate Brown’s office.
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