Measure 90: A No-Win Scenario (The Sequel)

Carla Hanson

Not long ago, BlueOregon celebrated its 10th anniversary, and Kari asked contributors to reflect on their favorite columns. While my post from late October 2008 may not be my most well written, it is truly the most relevant.

Nothing presented in the intervening 6 years has softened my opposition to the "Top 2" primary system. The experiences of California and Washington have only served to fortify the arguments of those opposed, and debunked the optimistic speculation (i.e. messaging) of those that are again trying to cram this down voters' throats.

In brief, passing 90 will neither increase voter participation nor create a friendlier environment for "minor" parties. What it will do is grease the skids for only the most well funded candidates to enter the fray, let alone emerge from it. The arguments from 2008 still ring true:

Measure 65: A no-win scenario, October 28, 2008

Measure 65 is the like proposing amputation to cure a hangnail, effecting a package of unintended consequences that will limit voters’ choices rather than enhance them. Whether a voter identifies with a party or not, the field of candidates under Measure 65 could be severely trimmed well before the Primary vote even occurs, and Oregonians will be deprived of choices because of it.

Instead of Democrats (or Republicans) in a given district being able to decide whom they like best in a field of 3 or 4 in the existing system, there would be a natural tension and pressure to limit major party candidates to no more than 2, and maybe one. Threatened will be the opportunity to select a candidate from a field of quality individuals from various backgrounds.

In a “top two” system, each party would be forced into a game of strategy months before the March filing deadline. Pressure from parties, and from moneyed interests (often from out-of-state), would be enormous, and the chances of enthusiastic, qualified but un-vetted candidates entering the process would be limited. Potential candidates would have to decide whether their candidacy would actually be in conflict with their social and altruistic goals, because too many candidates of a particular stripe could ensure that ALL of them lose, even if that stripe most accurately represents the District.

The situation created by Measure 65 is a no-win scenario. Either a potential candidate from a major succumbs to the pressure from the party and decides against running, or s/he takes the chance, runs against the favored candidate and risks eliminating both.

Smaller parties could put forth candidates, but as long as Republican and Democratic Parties exist, smaller parties will NEVER see their candidates advance to the general election. Measure 65 does nothing to enhance the viability of the Green, Working Families, Independent Party or any other small party registered in Oregon. Measure 65 will further limit their impact and silence their voices.

The majority of voters in Oregon have consciously chosen to affiliate with particular parties based on shared values and philosophies. We rightfully expect to be able to choose our own party’s nominees along with other similarly aligned Oregonians. Likewise, the non-affiliated voter has consciously made that choice, in effect declaring that s/he is not interested in participating in the partisan primary process. Skewing the system so radically doesn’t “solve” any problems for the unaffiliated voter; it simply creates a huge problem for all Oregon voters.

The Multnomah County Democratic Party has voiced its strong opposition to Measure 65. As Democrats, we share core philosophies, yet possess a wide range of viewpoints. We believe ALL these viewpoints should have the forum for expression in the primary election, and that primary voters should be enabled to vote for whomever best represents their philosophies.

Measure 65 limits the choice Oregon voters deserve.

We encourage Oregonians to vote NO on Measure 65.

2014 update. The Oregon and Multnomah Democratic Parties have not made their endorsements for the 2014 ballot measures, but will be doing so within the next 2 weeks. I do not speak on behalf of either.

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