The fatal flaw in Measure 90, and the election that proves it

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Over at the O, Jeff Mapes writes about "five elections that could have been different" under Measure 90. But mostly, he talks about general elections that wouldn't have included third-party candidates. But the bigger change under the open primary measure would be in... primaries.

And you don't have to look very far. In fact, just back to the last time we had an open seat in Mahonia Hall.

In 2010, Chris Dudley came darn close to beating John Kitzhaber in the general election. It was a margin of just over 22,000 votes out of 1.4 million cast -- or 49.3% to 47.8%.

But if Measure 90 had been in place, it's entirely possible that Dudley wouldn't have even been on that ballot. Consider the primary election results:

DJohn Kitzhaber242,54534.6%
RChris Dudley122,85517.5%
DBill Bradbury110,29815.7%
RAllen Alley99,75314.2%
RJohn Lim47,3396.8%
RBill Sizemore23,5223.4%
DRoger Obrist16,0572.3%
RW. Ames Curtright12,4971.8%
RRex O. Watkins3,0600.4%
RClark Colvin1,2060.2%
RDarren Karr1,1270.2%
RBob Forthan7270.1%

In 2010, if just 12,558 Republican primary voters had swung their vote from Chris Dudley to any other Republican, the top two would have been John Kitzhaber and Bill Bradbury.

Or, for that matter, if just 12,558 more Democratic primary voters had decided to vote for Bradbury instead of Kitzhaber, that would have been enough for an all-Democrats general election.

That's a shift of just 1.8% of the total primary electorate.

Of course, it's entirely plausible that under Measure 90, the field and the campaign would look completely different. Maybe a wealthy independent would have jumped in. Maybe a moderate Republican with actual political skills (not Allen Alley, please) could have assembled a coalition of voters across the parties. (And, of course, the electorate would have included all those third party candidates and nonaffiliated voters, which -- yes -- would have an effect.)

But the most likely change -- in fact, an almost certain change -- is that the two major parties would have pressured the candidates (probably through their major donors) to ensure that only one well-known Democrat and one well-known Republican would have run at all.

That's the big flaw in Measure 90. It's supposed to give more voters access to the decision-making process that takes place in the primary election. But it won't. The primary elections will become general election dress rehearsals -- with the same limited set of candidates.

And the "primary election" will take place behind closed doors and will be decided by money, not votes.

How exactly does that open up our democracy?