The voting process here in Oregon has always been unique. As one of the only states which uses vote-by-mail as the standard, Oregon is open to trying new things in order to increase voter turnout.
Ballot Measure 90 would further that progress.
Oregon’s current closed primary system only allows voters who are affiliated with the major parties to vote in the primary elections. Ninety percent of all Oregon elections are decided in the primaries due to the fact that partisan Oregon legislators have drawn the district lines in a way that makes most districts “safe zones” for one of the two major parties.
This means 650,000 Oregon voters who are either nonaffiliated or a member of a third party do not have a say in who will ultimately become our representatives in local and national government.
A system that blocks nearly one third of Oregonians from a taxpayer-funded primary election is not a system that inspires or even hints at being fully democratic and representative.
Measure 90 would replace this disenfranchising primary system. It advocates sending one primary ballot to all registered Oregon voters with all candidates from both the major and minor parties listed.
Voters would get to express their preference, and the top two candidates would then advance to the general election. Such a system is very common in local and city-wide elections already.
Not surprisingly, this legislation has ruffled the feathers of both the Republicans and the Democrats here in Oregon, and they have united to oppose it.
Such worries probably stem from the fact that in many counties and districts, the general elections would no longer come down to the simple Democrat versus Republican race we’ve all come to love so much. This could mean that two Democrats or two Republicans who might differ in economic or social policy may go against each other in the general election.
Oddly enough, many third parties oppose Measure 90. For them, having their name on the ballot makes them feel like they did their job. They feel content with being an option without harboring any illusion that they would ever win a general election. These third parties, even the ones with decent support, often act as spoilers. With only the top two candidates going to the general election, this would no longer be the case.
Third parties don’t see an advantage in an open primary due to the fact they wouldn’t have the numbers to defeat any of the major party candidates. However, that is the case right now without an open primary.
Measure 90 would provide a real alternative to voters who live in partisan districts and would have a more representative choice.
While I recognize the hesitation of many minor parties to come out in favor of such a measure, I think such legislation would provide a new and exciting role for minor parties.
Measure 90 would preserve fusion voting, which allows candidates to list up to three parties on the ballot.
This gives third parties the option to not run their own candidates and instead co-sponsor candidates that they feel represent them.
The Working Families Party of Oregon takes advantage of fusion voting in order to label candidates that are dedicated to making the lives of working people better. They sponsor both Republicans and Democrats alike and often don’t run their own candidates.
Measure 90 would give them the opportunity to label the champions for working Oregonians in the primaries, which is where most of the decisions are made. This would force the Democrats and Republicans to consider the concerns of third parties even before the primaries happen.
Imagine a ballot with a series of Democrats and Republicans where certain candidates are sponsored by multiple third parties.
This would allow members of these minor parties to see who is more representative of their own ideas while still feeling like they are taking part in the elective process.
In some districts this would allow a Democrat who is nothing more than a career politician to go up against a Democrat sponsored by the WFP. Allowing voters to see which candidates are sponsored by who means they are not lost in a sea of red and blue.
The WFP serves as a great example for how other minor parties should try and be more present to the mainstream voting base. I think this new legislation poses an interesting challenge to third parties such as the Libertarian Party, the Green Party and the Progressive Party, who are used to running their own candidates. However, I think the initial stumbling blocks will ultimately allow third parties to have a bigger voice in the general election and in the major primaries.
I myself would rather see a Republican with a Libertarian stamp of approval than a Libertarian running on his own. I would also rather see a Democrat with a WFP stamp of approval rather than a candidate splintering the progressive vote.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this system is perfect by any means, nor do I think it will fix all the problems with the electoral process. Rather, it’s a step in the right direction—one that might help irradiate the unrepresentative party politics at play in America.
With 49 percent of voters under the age of 40 choosing not to register with either the Democratic or Republican parties, it’s time we make the electoral process more open and not force people to join a major party to simply have their voice heard.