Will Oregon Democrats Kill Third Parties in the State?
The Independent Party of Oregon scored a major ally in the party's effort to protect ballot access for third parties in Oregon this week, when Oregon's Senate Republicans sent a letter to Senate President Peter Courtney (D), asking him to take steps to ensure that the Independent Party and several of Oregon's minor parties would not lose ballot access as a result of the state's new "Motor Voter" law.
Small parties in Oregon are threatened by the passage of Oregon's new voter registration system, which is expected to add nearly 400,000, mostly non-affiliated voters into the system. Because ballot access for Oregon political parties is based on their share of the overall electorate, several Oregon political parties including the Independent, Working Families, Progressive and Constitution parties are threatened with losing ballot access.
Under the previous system, 75 percent of voters joined a political party. Under the new system, only 9 percent are joining political parties.
This shift is attributed to changes in how the state processes new voter registrations. Under the old system, voters were allowed to select a political party at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Under the new system voters are automatically enrolled without their knowledge as non-affiliated and must return a card within 21 days to either opt-out or be enrolled in a political party.
Most immediately, the Progressive Party and Constitution Party are threatened with "extinction" (i.e. a loss of access to the general election ballot) since new voters will be added to the system in 2016 immediately before the calculations are made to determine ballot access for 2018.
The Independent Party would lose its status as Oregon's third "major party" and its candidates will not appear on primary ballots after 2016. The Working Families Party, which does not run its own candidates, but instead cross-nominates major party candidates, is the only party to receive a legislative fix to preserve its ballot access. The original motor voter legislation exempted minor parties of a certain size from the effects of Motor Voter but contained a drafting error.
To date, Democratic leaders have not committed to preserving ballot access for any political party other than the Oregon Working Families Party.
Several newspapers have issued editorials demanding that the legislature preserve ballot access for the state's political parties. The Independent Party filed a petition on Change.org, asking Oregon's Democratic leadership not to kill Oregon's third parties and we encourage members of the IVN community and supporters of independent and third-party movements generally to weigh in on the petition.
To learn more about the petition, click here.