Give voters equal say with 'top-two' primary
In the 2008 general election, Oregonians were asked if they would like to adopt a primary election system in which every voter got the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation, and the top two vote-getters advanced to the general election, also regardless of party affiliation. But voters said no in droves.
When a measure goes down not only in the rural likes of Union and Umatilla counties, but also in the urban likes of Marion and Multnomah, it’s on its way to a punishing defeat. And this one, rejected by a ratio approaching 2 to 1 overall, didn’t find favor in any county anywhere.
But a lot has changed in the six intervening years, so proponents are hopeful as they prepare to give the issue another go in November.
Approval would unify the West Coast, as both California and Washington already have top-two systems in place. Washington first adopted an open primary in 1935, at the instigation of the Grange, and California later followed suit.
The system they used originally was ruled unconstitutional in 2000. But a revamped top-two version, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, was enacted in Washington in 2004, California in 2010.
The main intent is to open the selection process to voters affiliated with minor parties and non-affiliated, not just those aligning with a major party. It clearly serves to do that, as independent- or contrarian-minded voters turn out in much greater numbers in primaries in which they are given an equal stake.
A secondary aim is to ease political polarization by evening the playing field for those in the moderate middle, who are prone to marginalization in a traditional partisan-primary approach. That can work even in a district where a dominant party gets two of its adherents through, as the more moderate of them likely will prevail.
In 2008, the so-called “open primary” measure was the 12th of 12 on the ballot. Big Labor saw it as a threat to Oregon’s traditional Democratic Party dominance, so lumped it in with several hated Bill Sizemore measures and poured money and manpower into opposition.
But that defies duplication this year.
In 2008, the electorate ran 43 percent Democratic, 33 percent Republican and 24 percent other. Last year, it was running 39 percent Democratic, 31 percent Republican and 30 percent other.
Over the period, Oregon’s non-affiliated or NAV share grew 85,000, its Independent Party or IPO share by 75,000 and its other minor party share by 5,000. Together, they are about to eclipse the Republican Party, and the IPO, founded just seven years ago, is rapidly approaching the 110,000 members need to gain official major party status.
That shifts the playing field significantly.
In a recent editorial, the Klamath Falls Herald & News said, “Oregon voters are voting with their feet by walking away from the established parties, but without a change in the election system, that turns over control of much of Oregon’s political processes to a narrowly focused minority because that’s who the current process favors.” We agree with both that assessment and its solution, which is for Oregonians to embrace the top-two primary pioneered by its neighbor states.