Effort To Change The Primary Voting System

Mark Frohnmayer is tired of feeling like he has to vote for the “lesser of two evils” in the Oregon elections process, and he’s out to change our primary process to a more open process called “approval voting.”

Frohnmayer, a Eugene-based entrepreneur and self-described “fixer of broken systems,” says that the idea to change the voting system has been on his mind for a while. He wrote the measure with his brother Jon Frohnmayer two years ago, and it sat “gathering bits on the hard drive until the federal government shutdown.” He adds, “I couldn’t stand idly by.”

Under the “fair and unified elections initiative” voters would get a primary election ballot that shows all the candidates for each non-presidential partisan office, as opposed to the current system in which only registered party voters can vote in the primary. Each voter then votes “yes” or “no” on each candidate, and the two candidates with the most up votes go to the general election for a runoff.

Frohnmayer says this means that voters don’t have to choose between their favorite candidate versus one they think would actually win.

He calls the current system “sort of hideously broken” and says it leads to bipolar lawmaking bodies. He calls his primary proposal “more nuanced” and says as an independent voter the current system shuts him out along with the rest of the one third of Oregon voters who are not registered Democrat or Republican. He also says 45 percent of newly registered voters are independent, and the current process says, “Hey, welcome to voting, you are shut out.”

Frohnmayer says you can see the problems of the current system “writ large on the national scale where even the so-called moderate Republicans are not acting like moderate Republicans because they are afraid of being ‘primaried’” — of losing in the primary to a member of one’s own party because the vote is split.

He began the process for a ballot measure earlier this fall and has submitted the required 1,000 sponsorship signatures to the Secretary of State Elections Division, after which it makes its way to the attorney general’s office for a ballot title, and then it’s on to the signature-gathering process. It will take a couple months before the ballot title process is finished and collecting the required 80,000-plus valid signatures can begin.

Frohnmayer is new to politics and the initiative process, but his family is not — his father Dave Frohnmayer was the Oregon attorney general, a gubernatorial candidate and the president of the UO.

Efforts to switch Oregon’s primary system have failed in the past, but Mark Frohnmayer says the two previous proposals by former Secretary of State Phil Keisling, the most recent in 2008, would have come at the expense of third party and moderate voices, and thanks to the federal shutdown and hyper-partisanship, “we live in a different time now.”

For more information, go to approvalprimary.org.

This story has been updated.