Our Rigged Elections

‘Top two’ open primary would be more democratic

Why should I have to pay taxes for primary elections when I can’t vote in them? I’m registered with a minor party — not the Democrats nor the Republicans. Members of the Working Families Party, like me, and members of the Pacific Green Party, the Libertarian and others have to pay the bill for the two major parties’ closed primaries. So do independent voters not registered with any party.

Thirty percent of all voters and almost half of young voters are not registered with the Ds or the Rs. More than 650,000 of us are shut out of the partisan primaries, where lots of elections are decided. Many of this year’s races for the Oregon Legislature are already over. According to the Secretary of State’s website, only one major candidate will be on the ballot in five of the 16 Senate districts up for election. The same is true in 20 of the 60 House districts. Nearly one-third of the Legislature has been chosen before any independent or minor party voter has had a chance to participate.

Even worse, the Ds and Rs have used the legislative redistricting process over the years to create a state full of “safe districts” where the winner of the major party primary is virtually guaranteed victory in the general election. In the last election, by the time the general election came around, most all attention (and money) was focused on just five “swing districts.” If Oregon were a separate nation that let so few voters choose its leaders, we’d consider it undemocratic.

This November we will have a chance to vote on Measure 90, which would put in place a “top two” open primary system. If Yes on 90 wins, the Ds and Rs will no longer dominate the primaries. All candidates from all parties will appear on one primary ballot. All registered voters will get a ballot, and the two candidates getting the most votes will face off in the general election. Voters in every district will have a choice. The election process will be much more democratic (small d).

While The Working Families Party of Oregon supports Measure 90, other political parties are lining up in opposition. Democratic and Republican party insiders don’t want to give up their monopoly control of the primaries. Minor parties like the Pacific Greens oppose Initiative 55 because they will no longer be able to nominate third candidates for the general election. Unlike these splinter or spoiler parties that want to maintain ideological purity and never have a chance of winning, the Working Families Party is realistic and pragmatic. We are willing to give up the ability to nominate a general election candidate on our own for the opportunity to endorse candidates in both primary and the general elections who share our values.

The top two open primary proposed for Oregon is significantly different from the systems in place in California and Washington. If Measure 90 is adopted here, political parties will still have an important role. The ballot will show the party, if any, in which the candidate is registered, and it will also show which parties have endorsed which candidates. To choose which candidates to endorse, the Republicans and the Democrats and other parties can still organize (and pay for) their own primary elections. They just won’t be able to keep making me and other minor party members and independents pay for their internal party business through our taxes.

The Oregon Working Families Party is an independent, grassroots political party focused on bread-and-butter economic issues that matter to working people. For too long, we believe, the political system has been rigged against working people. We see adoption of the Oregon top two open primary proposal, which preserves a strong role for political parties, as a step toward empowering more voters and enabling a diverse set of voices to set the agenda for governing our state. — Stefan Ostrach

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