Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.23.08

Dire Consequences
Measure 65 wrecks a system that works
By Blair Bobier

Measure 65 is so absurdly unnecessary and over-the-top ridiculous that it reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where they go hunting for the dreaded mosquito. After pummeling the mosquito habitat with artillery and air strikes, one of the Python members steps in with a machine gun, to finish the mosquito off, because “there’s nothing worse than a wounded mosquito.”

Of course, a fly swatter would have done the trick in the first place.

And therein lies the rub with Measure 65. 

The Big Business backers of Measure 65 are taking a chainsaw to Oregon’s election system, when a scalpel would do nicely.

Measure 65 would drastically change Oregon’s elections by creating a Louisiana-style “top two” system. Our current primary system would be junked and replaced by a free-for-all primary where candidates from all parties would compete in the same election. There would no longer be a separate primary for Republicans and Democrats, nor would Greens and Libertarians have their own nominating conventions. Republicans would influence the selection of Democratic candidates and vice versa, creating unlimited possibilities for unscrupulous political operatives to rig the system.

When touting Measure 65, its corporate backers usually focus on the primary election in which independent voters would be able to vote in party primaries, and ignore the dire consequence of this measure for the general election in November: Oregon voters would be limited to only two choices for each race. Your “choices” could be two Republicans or two Democrats. The odds of seeing a third party candidate on the ballot in November would be slim to none.

Elections, the heart and soul of America’s emerging democracy, are all about choices. Measure 65 takes your choices away.

Measure 65 would also make campaigns longer and more expensive — a heckuva selling point as we crawl to the finish line of the longest and most expensive campaign season in America’s history. In a top two primary, all candidates compete against candidates from all other parties, not just the candidates from their own party. This means candidates have to raise more money to reach more voters and do it earlier than ever before, making campaigns longer and more expensive. This favors candidates backed by Big Business and makes getting politically involved even more difficult for community-minded citizens and grassroots activists.

Proponents of this ill-conceived measure claim that it will elect “moderates” to the Oregon Legislature. Even if this were desirable, top two does not elect moderates. In fact, the opposite is true. In Louisiana, where this system was created to dilute the voting power of African-American voters, neo-Nazi David Duke did quite well.

The main thrust of Measure 65, however, is that all Oregonians should be able to vote in the primary election. And guess what? We already can. If you want to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary, fill out a voter registration card 21 days before the primary and register with the party of your choice. It’s easy. No machine gun or chainsaw needed.

 Blair Bobier, an elections law specialist, is Programs Director of the Corvallis-based Civics Education League.