Oregon Bill Would Give Independent Voters a Primary Election

No one in their right mind would challenge the importance of primary elections.

So, if the first stage of the public election process in closed primary states, like Oregon, doesn’t let independent voters participate at all, how can independent voters possibly have an equal right to vote?

That’s the question being addressed by two Oregon legislators.

In Oregon, 27.7% of registered voters have chosen not to join a party. But, because they have chosen not to join a party, they’re not allowed to vote in the all-important closed primary.

That’s why Oregon Assemblymembers Dr. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) and Rich Vial (R-Scholls) have introduced two bills with two different types of election systems that would give independent voters an equal voice in the election process.

“Every voter regardless of whether they want to affiliate to a party should have the opportunity to participate both in the primary election and the general election.” – Oregon Assemblymember Rich Vial

Chad Peace, attorney for the Independent Voter Project, breaks down HR-2211 and HR-3140.

HB-3140, introduced by Rep. Buehler, would create a revolutionary “People’s Primary” that would be open to any candidate or voter, regardless of party affiliation. This would allow the major political parties to keep their existing primaries, but provide another path for candidates and voters to participate equally in the first stage of the election without having to affiliate with either of the major parties.

The “People’s Primary” concept is smart. Traditional open primaries are currently under attack by both parties in the courtroom because, as they argue, forcing the parties to allow non-members to participate in their nomination process violates their constitutional right of non-association under the First Amendment. (see, Democratic Party v. Jones).

Rather than try and force open the private party primaries, the People’s Primary would simply provide an alternative nomination process that serves the public. This would give nonpartisan or independent-minded candidates and voters an opportunity to have a nomination process that competes on an equal playing field with those of the political parties.

Buehler and Vial have taken a cunning approach in their fight to make the People’s Primary a reality. Along with the People’s Primary bill, Vial simultaneously revived a “top-two” nonpartisan primary bill from 5 years ago, HB-2211, similar to the systems adopted by California and Washington state.

Nonpartisan primaries get rid of party nominations altogether. Not surprisingly, political parties, including third parties, tend to oppose them.

Buehler and Vial hope that given that voters are more interested than ever in issues like election reform, they may get support for the People’s Primary from some legislators that don’t want to get rid of the partisan process altogether.

Oregon’s HB-2211 and HB-3140 bills are scheduled to be heard today at the House Rules Public Hearing.

Thursday’s testimony on HR-2211 and HR-3140. Start video at 5:40:

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